Those Troublesome Timeshares

A vacation timeshare can become like a stone around your neck.  I would say if you are thinking of getting one, don’t.

Vacation Timeshares can be like a stone around your neck.

A vacation timeshare can be like a stone around your neck.

A while back I heard from some people  I had done a Chapter 7 bankruptcy for in 2006.  After hearing nothing for years, out of the blue they were being sued for dues and maintenance fees by a timeshare company. The vacation  timeshare was owned at the time of filing the bankruptcy.  My clients were asking me the obvious questions:  Wasn’t that taken care of when we filed the bankruptcy?  How can they be suing us now?

Timeshares are unusual animals and a bankruptcy discharge might not apply to the maintenance fees and ownership association dues which accumulate AFTER the filing of the bankruptcy.  Any fees owing from before the filing of the bankruptcy would, however, ordinarily be discharged.

When it comes to fees which accumulate after the filing, the reason they might not be dischargeable is a provision among those that Congress added to the bankruptcy code in 2005, Section 523 (a) (16).  If you go here you can see it, just scroll down to (16).  This was written mostly to apply to condo and homeowner association fees, but it also says “in a share of a cooperative corporation … for as long as the debtor or the trustee has a legal, equitable, or possessory ownership interest in such unit, such corporation or such lot …”

Some timeshares involve real estate ownership and are a version of a condominium or townhouse setup.  Others are cooperatives that own the property and the customer gets a membership in the coop.  If you have either of these, you are probably liable for the fees which are accumulated AFTER the bankruptcy filing and continue to accumulate until you are no longer an owner.  This is or can be a terrible spot to be in, because many of these places have quit trying to take back the units when they are not being paid for.  Most of them are worth little or nothing and can’t be sold.  A timeshare owner might be stuck with it indefinitely.

However, if you merely have a contract that gives you a license to use the facilities during a certain time, without any sort of ownership of the property, then liability for the fess would probably not continue after the bankruptcy filing.  The bankruptcy should kill it for good.  So exactly how the timeshare is set up makes a big difference.   I have looked over many stacks of timeshare documents, some of them even in foreign countries.  Those papers tend to be very hard to wade through, very hard to figure out.  I can read and write, and I even went to law school, but sometimes it can be hard to figure which category a certain timeshare setup belongs in.

If you have a timeshare of any kind and are considering bankruptcy, be sure to tell your lawyer all about it. If you can sell it before filing the case, you probably should.  Make your best effort to figure out whether it has a market value and what that is.  Provide your lawyer with all the paperwork you may have about it.  Make sure it is properly listed and properly described in your bankruptcy petition, and make sure that whoever is running the organization gets notice of your bankruptcy filing.

Then cross your fingers, hold your breath, or better yet –  pray a lot.  Hope the darn thing goes away.

As with any other financial matter, if you are considering a bankruptcy, don’t make any serious moves without consulting your attorney first.

This post is for general information purposes only and is not legal advice.  It does not create an attorney-client relationship.  If you need legal advice, please consult the attorney of your choice. 

What to Bring to the First Meeting at My Offce

For me the starting point for most bankruptcy cases is a call from the prospective client.  If you are reading this that could be you.  Before anything else I like to do a screening over the phone.  This can be done in about fifteen minutes, sometimes maybe a bit longer.  No need to be afraid of me.  I’m easy to talk to.  There’s no fee for the phone conversation.  If the information from the phone conversation indicates that bankruptcy is appropriate, whether that be a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13, the next thing I want to do is meet face to face in my office for a more serious consultation. For this I will charge a small consultation fee, which I will have quoted in the phone conversation.  I will credit the consultation fee against my fee for the case if we decide to go ahead.  If I suggest that you come in for a consultation, it’s because I’m already fairly certain that it is a case I would accept.

There are four batches of information that I would ask you to bring when you come:

  1. Forms.  There are two forms on my web site, the bankruptcy questionnaire and the monthly expense sheet.   Please print these two forms and fill them out in pen and ink.  Pencil is OK too.  Then bring them with you when you come.  Some of the questions, especially on the first form, are hard to answer.  If you can’t figure out the question, leave it blank and we’ll talk about it when you come in.  Complete the expense sheet to the best of your ability, and we’ll go over those numbers when you come in too.  Remember that things you charged on a credit card count as an expense as well as the things you paid for in cash or by means of your checking account.
  2. Tax returns.  I’d like to see your state and federal tax returns for the past two calendar years, along with your W2s and any similar supporting paperwork.  At the time of writing this post, that would be the returns for 2011 and 2012.  If you filed for a Minnesota property tax refund or Minnesota rent credit, I’d like to see that return for the past two calendar years as well.  If you file separate returns for your corporation or LLC, bring them along as well.
  3. Pay stubs and income information for the past seven months.  I need to see the last seven months of pay stubs from your your job and from the job of your spouse.  If you don’t have them, get them from your employer or from your employer’s web site.  By seven months I mean the six previous months plus the month we are in.  If you don’t have pay stubs because you are self employed, I need a spread sheet showing your gross income and your business-related expenses for that same seven month period.  If you don’t have pay stubs because you are unemployed, I need detailed info on what unemployment benefits you are receiving and what taxes are being withheld from your benefits if any.  If you are receiving child support or spousal maintenance, I would want dates and amounts received during that seven month period.  If you are on  Social Security or Social Security Disability, provide me with details of how much you received gross in the past seven months and what if anything was withheld from that.  If there is any kind of income coming in from anywhere, I need to know about it.
  4. Details about your debts.  I want to see every piece of paper you have describing each and every debt.  Include your credit cards, car loans, mortgages, tax debts, student loans and any fines and penalties you owe.  I usually can’t make the student loans go away, but I still need to know all about them.  You probably intend to keep paying your mortgages and car loans, but we need to list them anyway.  Some of your tax debt may be dischargeable, but even if it isn’t we need to list it all.  Be sure to include nasty letters from lawyers and collection agencies.  Eventually we will be checking your credit report, but for the first meeting the information you have handy about your debt will probably be enough.

As you might have gathered by this point, that consultation in my office is usually quite thorough.  I should be able to give you an opinion concerning your situation that will be worth the trip.  Figure on spending an hour and a half – more if we are planning on running a means test.

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