North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Make your health club work out for you

1/5/2012

By Attorney General Roy Cooper
North Carolina families celebrate the holidays in different ways, but one thing most celebrations have in common is plenty of good food. As a result, it’s no surprise that many people resolve to lose weight and get in shape in the New Year.
 
If your New Year’s resolutions have you thinking about joining a gym, do your homework first. My office hears from hundreds of consumers every year who are unhappy with their health club or see it shut down unexpectedly.  
 
Under state law, health clubs, dance studios, martial arts studios and dating services are required to have a bond or letter of credit to cover certain prepaid contracts in case they go out of business and need money to repay consumers.  Last year, my office conducted a sweep and found 28 businesses out of compliance which resulted in corrective action and settlements with the companies. We’ve also been able to use this law to recover more than one million dollars for consumers who were left out in the cold when their gym closed.
 
To help avoid problems from the start, here are some things to consider when you check out a health club:
  • Compare facilities and prices at several health clubs.
Shop around for the best value which may or may not be the least expensive club. For example, some clubs with low monthly fees require long membership periods. Know what you can afford to pay and stick to your budget no matter what incentives the sales agent offers. Don’t be afraid to bargain. You can also check with my Consumer Protection Division by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM to see if there are any complaints against the clubs you’re considering.
  • Take a tour and check out the staff.
Visit at the time of day you’re most likely to exercise to see if the equipment you want to use will be available when you need it. Make sure the club is clean and well maintained, and look for friendly and knowledgeable staff with the appropriate educational background and certifications. Some facilities have a staff member trained in Pulmonary Resuscitation on-site at all times, and some offer child care facilities. Look for a health club with the right combination of location, facilities and resources to meet your needs.
  • Take a test drive.
Ask if the health club allows free trial workouts so that you can see how you like it before you sign up. This will also give you the chance to ask current members about the facility. Beware of signing up with a club that hasn’t opened its doors, no matter how good the offer sounds.
  • Pay attention to your contract.
Take the contract home and read it carefully before you sign. Make sure you understand the cancellation policy, the services included, and the total cost. Stay away from clubs that pressure you to sign on the spot. Be certain that everything you’ve been promised is included in the final written version of your contract. If you sign up, don’t leave the club without a copy of your signed contract. Consider a short-term contract so you don’t get stuck with a membership you don’t use. Under state law, a health club contract cannot be longer than three years.
  • Ask about club transfers
Find out what would happen if the club closes.  The law allows clubs to transfer members to another club up to eight miles away in certain circumstances.  Consider asking the health club to remove that provision from your contract and agree instead to cancel your membership if the club closes before your contract expires.   If the club agrees to this, make sure it’s written in your contract and signed by a club representative.
 
And once you’ve joined a gym, keep the following important information in mind:
  • Remember your right to cancel.
Under North Carolina law, you can cancel your contract within three days of signing it. Most clubs require you to cancel in writing, so pay particular attention to the part of the contract that spells out how you must tell the club if you decide to cancel. It’s best to send your three-day cancellation notice via certified mail so that you have proof of when it was sent and received.
  • Watch out for automatic renewals.
Before you sign up, ask if your contract really expires after a certain period of time or if it will renew automatically. Some consumers have complained about contracts that are automatically renewed, or that require the consumer to take time-consuming steps to keep it from being renewed. If you have a problem with automatic renewal of a health club contract, let my office know about it.
  • Your health club may expire before your membership does.
If your health club closes, contact my office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM. Over the past few years, we’ve been able to recover more than one million dollars for hundreds of North Carolinians who were members of health clubs, gyms or dating clubs that shut their doors. For more information or to file a consumer complaint