New York, NY - January 14, 2016 - Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced settlements with 96 health club operators across New York State to resolve his investigation of compliance with the state’s Health Club Services Law and New York’s General Obligations Law. The 96 operators have signed “Assurances of Discontinuance” agreeing to modify their contracts to comply with NYS lawsand to pay penalties and fines. The settlement agreements stem from an investigation by the Attorney General’s Office that revealed widespread violations of the law, including failure to make required disclosures to consumers, and compliance with obligations required of health clubs under state law and inclusion of unenforceable release and/or waiver of liability provisions in their contracts.
“Many people opt to sign up for a gym membership in January – and then, you hope, actually go to the gym,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Today my office announced settlements with dozens of health clubs across the state to ensure members are treated fairly and clubs comply with state law. As you consider your own wellness goals, follow a few basic tips to make sure you’re getting the membership you want at the price you expect. By following a few tips, you can make sure you’re taking care of both your health and your wallet.”
January is the number one month for enrolling in health club memberships. Prompted by New Year resolutions and health club promotions, consumers flock to health clubs and sign contracts prepared by health club operators.
New York State’s Health Club Law provides consumers with certain protections. For example, no health club contract can exceed $3,600 a year or be for a term longer than 36 months. In addition, all health club contracts are cancelable within three days of the signing of the contract, and at any time for any of the following reasons: if the health club ceases to offer the services stated in the contract; if the consumer moves 25 miles from any health club operated by the seller; and if upon a doctor’s order, the consumer cannot receive the services as stated in the contract because of significant physical disability for a period in excess of six months. Such notices must appear on all health club contracts. The health club must provide refunds within 15 days of such cancellation.
Schneiderman offered the following tips to consumers when considering a health or fitness club:
- Become an educated consumer and visit or call more than one health club to earn about dues and when they must be paid, hours of operation, variety and frequency of classes and ability to use multiple locations
- Do not give in to high pressure sales tactics or feel obligated to sign a contract immediately. A reputable gym will give you enough time to read the contract thoroughly, tour the facilities, and check out other options before making an informed decision. Tell the health club representative you need time to think about joining the club and ask for free passes to determine if the club is right for you. Talk to other members.
- If a health club requires you to pay a down-payment or pre-pay your dues, ask it is bonded or has filed the proper financial security to protect you against losses of pre-paid membership dues. A health club is exempted from this requirement if they do not offer pre-paid memberships or if they offer a monthly payment option and the monthly dues do not exceed $150, memberships do not exceed one year and the contract does not contain an automatic renewal provision. To verify a club's compliance with this requirement, consumers can call (518) 474-4429, fax (518) 473-6648 or write to the New York State Department of State, Division of Licensing Services at 84 Holland Avenue, Albany, New York 12208.
- Determine your fitness goals and select the facility that best fits your needs. If you’ve been inactive for a while or have a serious health condition, it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional when setting your fitness goals.
- Consider the location. If your gym is across town, you’ll be less likely to work out. Choose a fitness club that is convenient to your work or home so that location is not a deterrent to getting regular exercise.
- Can you afford it? Monthly gym fees add up and after any introductory periods are over, the price could jump higher than your budget can handle. Be sure to do the math before you join and make sure you can afford a gym membership.
- Look for health clubs that allow members to make monthly dues payments and permits cancellation for any reason. Remember that the grounds for cancellation are limited to those set by New York State law if you sign a long term contract!
- Did you get everything in writing? Read the contract carefully and make sure that all verbal promises made by the salesperson are included. The terms of the contract are defined by the document you sign, so always be sure to get everything in writing.
The Attorney General’s investigation into health clubs’ compliance with state law remains ongoing.
This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Benjamin Bruce, Judith Malkin, James Morrissey, Michael Danaher, Stephen Barry, Irma Nimetz, Richard Yorke, Christina Bedell, Rachael Anello, Deanna Nelson, Glen Francis Michaels, and James Williams. The Executive Deputy Attorney General is Marty Mack.