With all the glorious snow about, many owners are thinking about their next ski vacation, but owners at Ritz-Carlton Club Aspen Highlands have lawsuits on their minds.
A lawsuit filed December 31, 2015 alleges that because of Ritz-Carlton's 2012 affiliation with Marriott Vacations Worldwide, Club Aspen Highland's fractional units, which are deeded and have condo association fees, are now more like timeshare units. The suit also claims the club's fractional units that originally sold for $200,000 to $400,000, are now worth as little as 20 percent of the purchase price.
Could be a Class-Action Lawsuit
Currently the sole plaintiffs in the lawsuit are club members, Jennifer Kaplan and Alexander Busansky, but their attorneys say a class-action suit with a potential of $160 million could be the end result.
California Attorney Michael J. Reiser said, "Losses are about $200,000 per fractional unit and there’s 800 of them." Reiser, along with two California law firms, joined Aspen attorney Matthew Ferguson in filing the suit on December 31 in Aspen’s Pitkin County District Court.
According to the plaintiffs the Ritz-Carlton Club Aspen Highlands, the centerpiece of the 2001 Highlands Village Redevelopment, was sold to them based upon claims by Ritz-Carlton that the fractional units were superior to Marriott Vacation Club's other timeshare offerings. They were told Club Aspen Highlands would be exclusive and operated for the use, benefit and enjoyment of club members. Buyers were told the highly expensive purchase prices for the fractional units as compared to Marriott timeshares, were warranted because the units were like a second home.
Fractional Units Devalued
Another point of contention—club owners claim they didn't have a say on the affiliation with Marriott Vacation Club. They learned in April 2014 that they could exchange a week of their fractional interests for points with the Marriott exchange program. Because members of Marriott Vacation Club could also purchase Marriott points to stay at the Aspen Highlands, owners claim it diminished the value of their fractional units. Ritz-Carlton members also pointed out that they pay homeowner dues and Marriott point holders don't.
"Ritz-Carlton members paid for a better product," said Attorney Ferguson. "If you make a reservation for the Four Seasons and they put you in a Holiday Inn, that's what’s happening here."
The complaint also claims that the defendants imposed the Marriott Club affiliation on class members to get rid of a poor financial investment with the Ritz-Carlton Club, and to use the affiliation to increase the attractiveness, value and price of the Marriott timeshares.
Not the First Club to Take Issue
Club Aspen Highlands is not the only club to have issues with the Marriott connection. Apparently members of the Bachelor Gulch and Jupiter Club ended their relationship with the Ritz-Carlton in 2013 and 2014 respectively, because of the affiliation with Marriott.
Attorneys Ferguson and Reiser will try to get a judge's approval for a class-action certification suit exclusive to the Aspen Highlands members. Unjust enrichment, conspiracy and breach of fiduciary duty are among the suit's claims. The two say hundreds of owners of the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands are eligible to join. Should be interesting!