AG's office offers tips on starting health club memberships
The beginning of a new year is customarily a time when many Pennsylvanians look to achieve their fitness resolutions by joining gyms or health clubs.
The Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection is reminding these residents that it is important to know your rights before signing a contract with any fitness facility.
“Anyone who is considering joining a health club or gym should carefully examine the contract they are signing,” Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane said. “It is important to do your due diligence and know your rights before making a final decision.”
In Pennsylvania, consumers have specific protections under the state’s Health Club Act.
The act requires clubs and gyms to register with the Attorney General’s office if they sell long-term contracts. It also provides financial protection for consumers if clubs suddenly close and spells out a consumer’s rights to cancel contracts or receive refunds in the event of relocation, injury or other special circumstances.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection receives several hundred complaints from consumers regarding health clubs and gyms, most involving struggles over contract cancellations or consumers seeking refunds when clubs suddenly close.
Pennsylvania law requires health clubs and gyms to register with the Bureau of Consumer Protection if they sell contracts of three months or longer.
Additionally, any health club or gym that sells memberships lasting more than one year, or clubs that collect more than one month of payment in advance, must file a letter of credit or bond with the Attorney General’s office. The bond or letter of credit is intended to protect consumers from financial losses if a club closes before their pre-paid memberships have ended.
The state’s Health Club Act also allows consumers to cancel their gym or health club contracts in certain situations. Any health club contract over three months can be cancelled within three business days of signing the contract, allowing a “cooling off period” for consumers to evaluate the contract and determine if it best suits their needs.
Consumers also have the right to cancel health club contracts in other special circumstances:
• If a club closes for more than 30 days and there is no alternate facility available within 10 miles.
• If the consumer moves more than 25 miles from the health club and there is no comparable club available within five miles of their new residence.
• If the consumer suffers an injury, verified by a doctor, which prevents them from using one-third or more of the health club’s equipment for six months or longer.
The Bureau of Consumer Protection has provided the following steps for consumers:
• Compare several gyms in your area to be certain that its location, equipment, hours, staff and price best suit your schedule and needs.
• Carefully read the contract you are signing. Take as much time as you need and do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics.
• Ensure that any contract over three months in length is in writing and gives the consumer a right to cancel after three days.
• Understand what a membership includes, along with any additional fees that may be charged for the use of special equipment, facilities, trainers, etc.
• If considering a long-term contact, check to make sure the club has registered with the Attorney General’s office.
• If pre-paying for a contract, verify the club has posted the required letter of credit or security bond with the Attorney General’s office.
• Take advantage of tours and complimentary visits before signing a contract.
• Speak with current members to learn their opinions of a specific gym.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Health Club Act or gym contracts, contact the Office of Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1-800-441-2555 or online at http://www.attorneygeneral.gov.