By Steve Hubrecht

Pioneer Staff

The long-running Sunchaser Vacation Villas case is still a long way from its final conclusion, despite a ruling against the timeshare owners in March, with the owners now appealing this most recent decision.

In her March 8th ruling in a test case for a class-action lawsuit involving more than 3,200 individual timeshare owners at the Sunchaser Villas in Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C. Supreme Court judge Shelley Fitzpatrick dismissed the claims of plaintiffs James and Elsie Belfry (represented through their real estate holding company JEKE Enterprises Ltd.) against Northmont Properties Ltd.

The resort was victorious on all issues, said Northmont chief executive officer Kurt Wankel. Our position throughout this process has been that the resort has acted reasonably, the contracts are clear and unambiguous, and the plaintiffs claim without merit. This was confirmed by Justice Fitzpatrick.

Mr. Wankel pointed specifically to one paragraph of the judgement, in a section on Northmont becoming lessor and owner (which the company did in 2010, taking over from original developer Fairmont Resort Properties Ltd.), which read unfortunately, the advancement of vague allegations and the lack of any, let alone compelling, evidence in support, coupled at times with an abandonment of certain allegations only after the conclusion of JEKEs argument, was a recurring theme in this trial.

The paragraph, according to Mr. Wankel is a pretty clear indictment of the plaintiffs allegations.

The Pioneer attempted to contact Cox-Taylor law firm lawyers Lindsey Leblanc and Ted Hanman, who represented the timeshare owner claimants in court during the three-week test case hearing in Vancouver in January, but was unable to reach either for comment prior to press deadline.

Vancouver lawyer Michael Geldert, who also represents the claimants, confirmed that JEKE has filed an appeal to the March 8th ruling.

We anticipate that appeal being heard this October (or) November 2016, said Mr. Geldert.

Mr. Wankel acknowledged the appeal, but expressed confidence that Northmont will win the appeal as well, saying we believe an appeal is meritless and we will defend it with the same vigour we have defended the resort to date. We have made a fair settlement offer to the delinquent owners and hope that most will recognize it is the appropriate resolution and an appeal will only lead to further costs.

The ongoing legal battle began more than three years ago, in April 2013, when more than 1,000 timeshare owners (a figure that has since grown) at Sunchaser Vacation Villas entered into a class-action lawsuit against Northmont, in a dispute over a costly renovation project and the associated fees charged at the villas.

The claimants initially alleged that, among other things, the renovation fees greatly exceed the regular maintenance expenses laid out in the timeshare agreements; that the fees had been improperly charged for expenses not incurred in the past three years and which may not ever be incurred; that the fees include renovation expenses for buildings that Northmont has not and does not intend to renovate or that Northmont seeks to remove from the resort for its own use; and that Northmont has used the fees for purposes other than the renovation project for which they are ostensibly being charged.

Several timeshare owners have contacted The Pioneer in recent weeks saying they have been receiving calls from what they said sounded like collection agencies, asking that their overdue Sunchaser fees be paid. Northmont is a subsidiary company of Northwynd Resort Properties Ltd.