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Health club contracts still an issue

Posted by Mitch Lipka  April 29, 2013 02:28 PM

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There’s something about health club memberships that have long made them a sore spot for consumers. Not every gym rubs people the wrong way, but a lot of people get trapped by contracts, shocked when trial memberships convert to annual memberships, and surprised by fees.

Some of these businesses, aware of consumer mistrust and resistance to long-term commitments, have turned to a more gentle approach – offering month-to-month arrangements with well-disclosed fees. But, a recent investigation of Boston area clubs by the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, which oversees the industry, revealed that problems are still widespread.

In a survey of 15 clubs, investigators found that not one followed state law by properly displaying membership prices and fees or notice of the right to cancel a contract within three days. Only two of the 15 clubs provided the terms of the contract before trying to get a signature -- an indication the clubs were pressuring consumers into signing contracts without allowing a chance to review them. The violations were referred to the Attorney General’s office.

In addition to disclosure problems, the state also found clubs charging a bunch of add-on fees including charges to enroll, lock in rates, and terminate the contract.

If you cancel a contract within three days of signing it, you must do it in writing – either in-person or with a postmark (ideally, a certified or registered letter) reflecting you’re within the window. The club then has 15 days to refund any money paid minus the time you used the facilities.

It is vital when you sign a contract with a club to understand what you’re agreeing to. After three days, the ability to cancel is limited to these reasons:

  • You’ve moved or changed employers at least 25 miles from one of the club’s facilities
  • A doctor certifies that you cannot safely use the services of the club for more than three months
  • Death
  • The club fails to open a location or closes one
  • A “substantial change” to club operations

Clubs cannot charge cancellation fees for any of the above reasons. Going to the gym should be a good thing, so do some homework to be sure your workout location ends up working out.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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