-by Michael D. Finn, Esq.
his article is divided into three sections, an introduction, a more detailed description of each of the reported agencies available, and a summary and conclusion. This initial section, is an introduction into the complaint process, who the players are, what’s involved in filing and what to anticipate in terms of agency response
The second section will list and describe any “agency” we are aware of who will accept a complaint on a consumer related timeshare issue. Instructions for initiating the process will be included along with a summary of the agency’s particular makeup and its relationship to the consumer and the timeshare industry.
The last portion, the Summary and Conclusion, brings into play the more complicated questions of whether filing a complaint is a worthy endeavor if your intent is solely to get someone to actually assist you with your dispute.
The issue of effectiveness of the complaint in terms of enhancing your developer dispute by bringing in some third party “muscle” will be discussed throughout this text, addressing what the author perceives as an overall general ineffectiveness in the administrative complaint process and some speculation on the possible reasons therefore. For now, let me suggest that in the absence of a resort’s willingness to address your grievance with you, I do strongly recommend filing complaints with all or as many agencies as practicable. It’s important that a record of your dispute be made, do not accept “no” for a final answer without taking your dispute as far as possible. Although I cannot provide you with any assurance that your issue will be appropriately addressed, your failure to register a complaint will both guarantee it won’t be addressed, and further deprives the industry from any notice or incentive to improve its relationships with owners.
The agencies I recommend you reach out to are both public and private, with the public, or governmentally sponsored ones divided into state and Federal. There is significant logic in attempting to involve the Feds, particularly if the state administrative agencies with primary regulatory control do not appear to be vigorously attempting to advocate the consumer’s issues.
In addition to the agencies included in this survey, I’d encourage you to be creative and look to local agencies, legislative channels, and even news agencies if your specific facts warrant that kind of exposure as well. The more fuss you can stir up the better.
In summary and to further emphasize this point, we do recommend you avail yourself of all avenues of dispute you have available to you. Even if your complaint isn’t addressed to your satisfaction, you haven’t lost anything but the amount of time in so doing, and, if you don’t make the attempt, the results of your inaction are clear. Recall the adage, “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Lastly, if not for your own situation, take some solace from the fact that your input may assist other owners with their further issues (there is strength in numbers, after all).
Better Business Bureau (“BBB”) (non governmental non regulatory organization)
The BBB is a nonprofit private (nongovernmental) organization focused on promoting “an ethical marketplace where buyers and sellers trust each other.”1 The BBB promotes trust between buyer and sellers by setting standards, encouraging and supporting best practices, celebrating marketplace role models, calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior, and creating a community of trustworthy business and charities.2 It is important to emphasize that the BBB is not a regulatory agency and its purpose is not to solve consumers’ dispute but to create and promote a community of business and charities that consumers can trust.
b. Dispute Process
If the BBB’s purpose is not to resolve consumers’ disputes, then why file complaints? Although an individual consumer’s complaint may not bring about a desired result, it alerts future consumers against an untrustworthy business.
Before discussing how the dispute process works, a consumer must keep in mind that the BBB does not handle several types of claims such as employee/employer disputes or discrimination claims.3 Further, a consumer should set emotions aside when describing the problem4 and refrain from abusive or foul language since the BBB reserves the right to reject complaints that contain that language.5
Filing the complaint with the BBB is quite simple and relatively effortless. As the consumer answers questions, others will be prompted to come up based on the previous answers. Consumer will then provide his/her personal information and the information of the business, and finally have an opportunity to tell the story.6 See the footnote below for the web based complaint site.
After filing the complaint, the BBB will notify the business within 1-5 days. The business has 30 days to respond to the BBB. Once the business responds to the BBB, the consumer will be notified of the response. If consumer is not satisfied with the business’s response, the consumer can file a rebuttal within 10 days. The case is then closed. If the business does not respond to the BBB within 30 days, the BBB will inform you on days 31-35. Most complaints close within 35 days from filling.7
The success of the process is not based on the outcome but whether the business responded or not. So consumers should be aware that the BBB ratings represent the BBB’s opinion of how the business is likely to interact with its customers.8 It is extremely hard to predict or foresee the outcome of a BBB complaint because businesses are not even required to answer to those complaints.
c. Agency Conclusion
Although the BBB is not a regulatory agency, it can give consumers an idea of how cooperative and responsive a business will be in case there is an issue faced by the consumer. The consumer should rely on the BBB’s rating only to the extent to determine how responsive the business will be regarding BBB’s complaints. It could very well be that a business would rather deal with a consumer directly (in fact, BBB recommends reaching out to the business before filing a complaint). But consumers should not be discouraged by the lack of positive results but continue to file complaints as to alert other consumers and thus fulfill the BBB’s mission to create a community of trustworthy businesses. Somewhat ironically, at FLG, we’ve found the BBB complaint to be more effective than those filed with some of the other agencies included within this survey. We attribute this to a couple of factors, one being that the resort has more control over state regulatory agencies (more on this subject later) and second, that many resorts are concerned enough about public perception of their consumer friendliness to initiate a dialogue that at minimum pays lip service to working out consumer issues.
CONTINUE TO PART 2: Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) (Federal Regulatory) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”).
Michael D. Finn, Esq.
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