New London - Local residents fear they may have lost tens of thousands of dollars by investing in timeshare condominiums at the Lighthouse Inn, which is in foreclosure.
It's unclear exactly how much money might be at risk, but if most of the timeshares available have sold, the number could top $2.5 million.
However, no records of any timeshare sales have been recorded at the city clerk's office. Gail Garrity, owner-broker of Gail Garrity Realtors, who regularly resells timeshares, said it's “highly unusual to have a piece of property not deeded.”
Garrity said all timeshares at Water's Edge Resort in Westbrook, the only other timeshare resort in Connecticut, are deeded in perpetuity.
The Lighthouse Inn's restaurant and hotel rooms have been condemned by authorities, but auxiliary space at the Carriage House has remained open. The inn's owners, Maureen Clark of Stonington and Christopher Plummer of Lyme, have both been charged in the past few weeks with failure to pay employee wages.
The century-old Lighthouse Inn mansion became affiliated with RCI, a timeshare-exchange company that boasts more than 3 million members, in 2003. It immediately earned billing as a Gold Crown Resort, RCI's highest designation, based on the quality and range of its offerings, which included an outdoor pool, nearby beach and banquet and restaurant facilities.
Local couples who bought into the timeshare concept in its first year included Joe and Linda Cook of Uncasville and Sal and Selenda Cardello of Gales Ferry. Each said they paid Lighthouse Group of Connecticut LLC $13,000 for a one-week timeshare over a 50-year period.
”It seemed like a good vacation spot,” Sal Cardello said in a phone interview. “Whenever we tried to transfer to another RCI resort, we never had a problem.”
But this year, Cardello said, the Lighthouse Inn refused to let him “bank” his week, meaning he couldn't exchange his room in the mansion for a vacation at another resort affiliated with timeshare firm RCI. At the same time, he said, the inn cashed his annual check for maintenance fees of more than $400.
Linda Cook said her annual maintenance fee of $395 will not be sent this January, when it is due. She said she has had nothing but trouble with the timeshare since Lighthouse Inn owner Clark convinced her and her husband to buy into the resort five years ago after having dinner at the inn's restaurant.
”She showed us the Carriage House, and it was a spectacular room ... but it was not the room we ended up staying in,” Cook said. “We just got in over our head.”
Cook said neither the Lighthouse Inn pool nor its rooms were well maintained.
”The furniture was old,” she said. “Everything smelled old.”
Calls to the inn and to Plummer went unreturned this week. The doors to the inn were locked during a visit around lunchtime midweek, and only two young men - who identified themselves as Maureen Clark's sons and who said they were there to check on the property - were at the site.
Cardello and Cook said they have been unable to contact the inn's owners.
Cardello said he has talked to an attorney who believes there will be no resolution for timeshare owners until a change of ownership at the inn occurs. It's unclear if the inn files for bankruptcy whether timeshare owners will be able to recoup any of their money or whether the inn's new owners would be obligated to abide by the original timeshare agreement.
Lighthouse Inn is still listed as an RCI resort on the company's Web site. Two calls on separate days to the RCI public-relations office elicited no response, and Cook and Cardello said the company has shrugged off their complaints.
Cardello said he hopes to organize a group of local timeshare owners that might be able to band together to negotiate with any new owner of the Lighthouse Inn. Cook said her best hope is that the Lighthouse Inn - in whatever guise that might take over the coming months - will buy her timeshare back.
If the hotel hadn't closed, Cardello and his wife, barred from trading their timeshare, would have been enjoying a vacation this week at the Lighthouse Inn.
”It's our anniversary week,” Cardello said. “It was a week we set aside to go away, relax and do nothing.”