BOCA RATON, Florida - The price to join the exclusive Boca Raton Resort & Club changes based on sales and the economy. Some former members want the club to also change how it issues refunds.
Brenda Hilsberg's photo albums are full of family snapshots.
"Off to dinner with the Easter bunny at the Boca Resort," explained Hilsberg.
Taken at the exclusive club where Hilsberg was a member.
"The hotel would be something special that I would look forward to. A special treat," explained Hilsberg.
That special treat turned sour when Hilsberg dropped out of the Boca Raton Resort & Club six years ago.
She's still waiting on her $22,000 dollar refundable deposit.
"I am now number 161 on the list," explained Hilsberg. She said she was #567 originally.
According to the club rules, one person's deposit is refunded after five new people join. It's in the fine print of the membership book.
According to a rule book from 2005, "....the resigned Premier Membership will be offered for resale on the basis of first-resigned, first re-sold. As long as The Club has Premier Memberships available for initial sale, every fifth Premier membership issued by the Club (excluding those issued in accordance with the Transfer provisions in paragraph 3) will be considered a resigned Premier Membership if a resigned Premier Membership is available for resale at such time."
The club says it has not strayed from this rule since the start of the program.
Hilsberg said she isn't moving fast on the list anymore.
"At last check, I moved six places in a little more than a quarter," Hilsberg explained.
Jerome Reiss is number 782 on the refund list.
"I think it's ridiculous," Reiss explained.
He worries his time to use his money is running out.
"I don't see how anyone could possible live long enough in most instances to get their money back," Reiss explained.
The money is refunded immediately upon request when a former member dies. Former members who are still alive can transfer their membership, wait until their membership matures which is 30-years after they joined, or wait until the 5 to 1 ratio is met.
Real estate attorney, Michael Posner, said it's a problem facing former members in clubs across South Florida.
"When you have a 5 to 1 program in a declining country club market, there may never be enough people to replace where you'd get your money back," Posner said.
He said there are court cases challenging some of these clubs, but members are not winning.
"They argue it's unfair, but unfair is not a legal argument," explained Posner.
Posner said it's buyer beware.
Most of these rules are disclosed in the fine print.
"Expect that you won't get the refund back and enjoy the country club for what it is. Just consider that a joining fee and maybe someday you might get lucky," explained Posner.
The Boca Resort admits its refund list is longer than it wants, so the club is offering buyouts.
"My initial membership was $22,000 and now they are offering me $8000 after a 6 1/2 year period," explained Hilsberg. "It's an insult."
Reiss isn't taking the offer either.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club said hundreds have taken the offer. They wouldn't provide specifics other than to say over $2 million has been paid in the deal.
The Boca Raton Resort & Club did not want to speak about these issues on camera, but said its membership sales are increasing.
Combined with its buyout program, the club hopes to reduce its waiting list this year.
Boca Raton Resort & Club full statement:
"The Premier Club has been in existence since 1991. Members historically gave a repayable deposit or fee consistent with many private clubs. The criteria to receive the return of the repayable deposit or fee is documented in the Membership Plan which every member has received. Over the past 23 years the Premier Club has consistently returned the repayable deposit or fee to those members who met the Membership Plan's criteria. The Premier Club recently offered a repayment opportunity to all repayable deposit members to receive expedited repayment in advance of their deposit maturity date."
--From Richard Hayduk, President of the Boca Raton Resort & Club