Membership Campground Contract Tough to Cancel

For nine years, Roseville, California retiree Basil Deem and his longtime companion lived full-time in their 37-foot motorhome while traveling the country.

Desert Shadows RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona is one of several membership campgrounds recently sold by Western Horizon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a campground membership that gave them access to dozens of resorts around the country, they wintered in Florida and summered in the Northeast and Nevada, often paying as little as $5 a night for a camping site.

But when Deem became disabled and could no longer handle the RV lifestyle, he discovered he couldn’t cancel his $99-a-year membership, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Most everyone has heard of time-share troubles, where people can’t sell or get out of their annual—and often escalating—dues and fees at time shares in Hawaii, Cancún, or other resort areas.

Campground memberships are a lesser-known and less-frequent type of time-share complaint, according to the Bee.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) lumps RV-related complaints into several categories, including timeshare rentals and resales making it difficult to pin down exact numbers. But overall, timeshare sales and resales are ranked among the top 10 categories of consumer complaints nationwide, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America and North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

In Deem’s case, he didn’t realize his contract with Timber Lodge RV Resorts Inc.—an Apple Valley, Minnesota-based company—stipulated that the membership couldn’t be terminated until “the death of the fourth owner” or third transferee. Timber Lodge RV Resorts is located 5260 Highway 150 West, New Waverly, Texas.

Verde Valley Preserve is a popular Thousand Trails membership campground near Red Rock Country and Sedona, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In other words, he could sell or let his heirs inherit his membership. But even then there would need to be two more changes of ownership before the contract could be terminated. The company refers to it as a “charter lifetime” contract.

Some campground membership contracts are for a limited amount of time, such as 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years, while some are for life, and in some instances, transferable, so they can be sold or willed, much like any other investment.

If your membership contract is for a specified number of years, you may not be able to terminate it until you have paid the full amount owed for the contract and the dues owed for the specified number of years.

Many campground membership contracts do not state for how long you must continue to keep the contract in effect by paying annual dues. If your contract does not state how many years it lasts, and if you have already paid the full price of the membership, you may be able to terminate the contract by giving the business notice that you no longer wish to keep the contract in effect.

You may still have to pay any amounts you owe for past due annual fees or dues you owed before you notified the business that you do not wish to keep the membership contract in effect. It is best to give written notice, sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to show the date you sent the notice and that the business received it.

Remember, whether or not you can cancel or terminate your contract will depend on what your contract with the campground membership company states.

Reading the contract before signing is the key. No matter how simple the purchase appears to be reading the entire agreement is essential.

After conducting a search on Rip Off Report I located 19 separate complaints submitted against Timber Lodge between November 2009 and August 2012.

The following consumer complaint is fairly typical:

Timber Lodge RV Resort offered us $99.00 yearly fees for use of their park as only a home park for our Coast to Coast membership. And they are saying we are not allowed to drop out without paying early termination plus late fees and reinstatement charges.

But we don’t want to be reinstated as we are no longer traveling. We assumed that anytime we wanted to drop out we didn’t pay the yearly fees and would be canceled and removed from their resort. And now find they have turned this over to a collection agency.

Another consumer responded as follows:

I’ve been there and done that. I went through the Minneapolis BBB and filed a complaint against Timber Lodge RV Resort. I finally agreed to pay $200 to get release from their company and have been in contact with over 10 people who are banding together to take action as a group instead of an individual who want out of that ridiculous contract.

The Thousand Trails Orlando Preserve is a popular membership campground in Central Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have you ever heard of a contract that makes your children pay when you pass away? They took advantage of me, a senior citizen, making promises over the phone (“You can sell your membership anytime with my help and there would not be a problem). We were victims of misrepresentation, nondisclosure, and contradiction in statements upon which we relied.

The bottom line: Read the contract—every single word—before signing on the dotted line!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thousand Trails, Western Horizon Resorts, and Passport America camping club but do not represent them or sell memberships.

Related Stories

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Membership Campgrounds

Part 2: Is Membership Camping For You?

Part 3: Is Membership Camping Cost Effective?

Worth Pondering…

Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.

—Mark Twain

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