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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Eighty-year-old Sandy Stiner said she thought she had a month to cancel her membership for an apartment at Kingswood Senior Center, but she was wrong. She had been fighting more than a year to get back the $167,000 fee she paid to join when she called FOX4 Problem Solvers for help.
“I thought it was a lovely place… It had all the perks I thought I was looking for,” said Stiner, who was planning to move into a one bedroom apartment there and sell her home in Kansas City’s Brookside neighborhood.
Stiner said a Kingswood saleswoman promised her that a close friend had also just joined. But Ms. Stiner later learned that her friend hadn’t joined. So after a few weeks of thinking it over, Stiner decided against moving to Kingswood and canceled her membership.
She said she mailed a letter to the complex, but was later told it never arrived.
“I wrote them another letter and I took it over and handed it to them,” Ms. Stiner recalled. “Because, according to the contract, I could either send it registered mail or I could deliver it in person.
I thought things would be taken care of.”
She was wrong. More than a year has passed and Kingswood hasn’t given her back any of her $167,000 deposit. What Stiner didn’t realize is that the complex can keep her money until it sells the membership to that one bedroom apartment to someone else.
“All they have to do to not sell the property is not show it,” Stiner said. “And it had not been shown for a long time when I bought the property.”
Stiner’s attorney, Ted Anderson, wrote a demand letter. No one at Kingswood responded. Now he’s filing suit against the retirement community.
“You know they told her that she could get her money back,” Anderson said. “And that’s all they told her if she didn’t move into the place.”
Kingswood Executive Director Sergio Fernandez Del Pino said the terms of the contract were carefully explained to Ms. Stiner before she signed it. However, Stiner said she doesn’t even remember seeing a contract, let alone signing one.
Disputes like this one involving senior living centers are not unusual, so much so that several states have passed laws to protect seniors.
“I get more complaints today about continuing care retirement communities in these kinds of situations than I ever did in all of the 30 years since I started this organization,” said Patricia McGinnis, director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
In 2006, California passed a law requiring senior living centers (similar to Kingswood) to give people most of their money back if either side decides to cancel a membership within the first three months. Stiner’s story alarmed Ms. McGinnis.
“She should have gotten everything back,” she said. “She never took possession.”
However, unlike California, there is no law in either Missouri or Kansas protecting seniors who enter into contracts with senior living centers.
McGinnis said she started hearing about a growing number of problems with senior living centers after the non profits that once ran them started using management companies to run them. Kingswood is owned by a foundation connected to the United Methodist Church.
Problem Solvers contacted the church’s Missouri Conference for comment. They referred us back to Kingswood.
Kingswood’s executive director said the facility is following the law as well as the terms of the contract that he said Stiner signed. Stiner will get her money back after a new membership to that same apartment is sold to someone else.
Stiner doesn’t know whether she’ll even live long enough to see that.
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