Harrisburg >> Just in time for New Year’s, when Pennsylvanians resolve to get healthy through exercise and joining a health club, Attorney General Josh Shapiro is encouraging Pennsylvanians to carefully examine any contract they sign before joining a health club, and offering tips so they understand their legal rights.
“New Year’s is a time when many Pennsylvanians decide to join gyms or health clubs to get healthy,” Shapiro said. “I want consumers to know my office monitors these health clubs to make sure they’re properly registered, and we’re here to help them avoid scams. We don’t want the ‘ball to drop’ on your New Year’s plans to get healthy because of a bad gym choice.”
The Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection received 93 complaints against health clubs and gyms in 2017, a 66-percent increase from 2016. Most complaints involved issues related to contract cancellations or consumers seeking refunds when clubs unexpectedly closed.
In Pennsylvania, consumers have specific protections under the state’s Health Club Act. Gyms and health clubs are required to register with the Bureau of Consumer Protection if they sell membership contracts of more than three months. The bureau entered into nine settlements with gyms in 2017 based on non-registration.
Any health club or gym that sells memberships of more than one year, or collects 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 to protect consumers if a club closes before its pre-paid memberships have ended.
“I’ll protect Pennsylvanians from being scammed by ensuring these facilities are properly registered,” Shapiro said. “If a health club is acting outside of the law, we’ll hold them accountable.”
Consumers have the right to cancel health club contracts in certain circumstances, including:
• Any club contract over three months can be cancelled within three business days of signing it, allowing a “cooling off period” for consumers to decide if the gym best suits their needs.
• If a club closes for more than 30 days and there is no alternate facility 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 that person’s new home.
• If the consumer suffers an injury, verified in writing by a doctor, which prevents that person from using one-third or more of the club’s equipment for six months or longer.
In one recent case, ElectroFit LLC in Lehigh County, now doing business as OxyFit Gym, closed on Dec. 13. Consumers who have paid memberships to ElectroFit may be entitled to a refund and are encouraged to contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection to file a complaint at 1-800-441-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Whether a consumer is a member of this gym or any health club and they don’t believe the club is delivering on its promises, we want to hear from you,” Shapiro said. “Call my Bureau of Consumer Protection. We’ll make sure the club is following Pennsylvania law.”
Attorney General Shapiro and the Bureau of Consumer Protection provided the following tips:
• Compare several gyms in your area. Be certain the location, equipment, hours, staff and price best suit your needs.
• Take advantage of tours and complimentary visits. Test out the equipment and experience the atmosphere before signing a contract.
• Carefully read the contract before you sign. Take as much time as you need. Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics.
• Watch out for hidden fees and clauses. Some fitness centers may offer trial memberships that can have hidden fees in the fine print.
• Get it in writing. Ensure that any contract over three months in length is in writing and gives the consumer a right to cancel within three days.
• Check the club’s registration. If you are considering a long-term contact, check to make sure the club has registered with the Attorney General’s office. Call 1-800-441-2555 to check.
“All of us at the Office of Attorney General want you to fulfill your New Year’s goals to get healthy,” Shapiro said. “I want you to make smart, informed choices on your gym or health club, and we’re here to help protect you. Happy New Year!”