Provided by the Bucks County Department of Consumer Protection:
As we start 2024 many may be making a New Year’s resolution to exercise more, or start a new routine signing up for a membership to a local health club. While these resolutions to begin new healthy habits are admirable, make sure you know what you’re signing up for. There’s a law in Pennsylvania protecting consumers who enter into a health club membership. This law is called the PA Health Club Act. The PA Office of Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection is tasked with ensuring health clubs are compliant with the terms of these regulations and can assists residents with complaints through mediation when issues arise. However, it’s best to avoid getting in that “unhealthy” situation in the first place, so it’s important to know the terms of what you’re agreeing to before you sign. Don’t let a representative at the health club you’re considering rush you through signing a contract. Many of these associates receive a commission for getting new members signed up so they may not always have your best interests as their top priority. Never trust verbal promises, always make sure the terms of the contract you’re signing match up to the claims an associate may verbally convey to you.
The most important factor is to know the term of the contract, are you locking yourself in for an entire year or are you signing a month-to-month agreement. Many health clubs attempt to lock consumers in for an initial one year term, which may have no option to cancel or if they do it’s typically a steep cancellation fee. If you do sign the contract without understanding the terms but realize your error quickly enough you may still be able to cancel the contract under the PA Health Club Act rule that a consumer may cancel a health club membership by delivering or mailing by certified mail, return receipt requested, written notice to the health club. The notice must say that you do not wish to be bound by the contract and must be delivered or mailed before 12 midnight of the third business day after you sign and receive a copy of the contract.
Before you sign a contract, always ask if there is a way to cancel your membership should you choose to, and also whether there are any fees associated with a cancellation. Another factor to consider is the true cost of your membership as many health clubs charge an initiation fee at sign up or an annual fee in a particular month each year to help with the cost of maintaining the facilities. While an advertised monthly rate may seem enticing, make sure you do the math on the true monthly cost factoring in all of those ancillary fees and ensure that your budget will allow for the true cost you are going to be contractually bound to.
The PA Health Club Act has provisions protecting consumers if they need to cancel their gym membership due to a permanent disability that would cause them to not be able to use at least one third of the facilities at the club. A doctor’s note confirming the disability is required along with the process the health club outlines for notifications and processing requests in these unique and infrequent circumstances. The Act also provides protections for consumers who move more than 25 additional miles from the health club and are unable to transfer the contract to a comparable facility located within five miles of their new residence. If you should need to move more than 25 miles away from the gym and there is no additional location they could transfer your membership to the Health Club Act provides for a prorated refund in this case based on the remaining months left in the contract.
These protections for unique circumstances such as permanent disability or a relocation are not meant to be used as a means to circumvent the terms of the agreement so unless a consumer has a legitimate claim under one of these exemptions to terminate a contract early it’s best to simply read the fine print before you sign so you don’t end up in a position where you’re looking for a way out of the agreement. As the old adage goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In other words it’s easier to prevent the issue by being a savvy consumer and educating yourself on the terms of what you’re agreeing to by reading all of the fine print before you sign any contract locking yourself into terms you may not realize or want to be bound to.
For consumers interested in reading more about the rights afforded to them under the PA Health Club Act you can view the terms of the law online at: https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/resources/health-club-registration/. Consumers in Bucks County can contact Bucks County Consumer Protection with questions about their rights or for assistance at www.BucksCounty.gov/ConsumerProtection. For consumers outside Bucks County you can contact the PA Office of Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection at www.attorneygeneral.gov.
To learn how to protect yourself from various scams and fraud, please visit our website at: www.buckscounty.gov/cp.