Personal fitness is important, and joining gyms or fitness centers can be a key to better health. But when deciding to join a health club, it's important to make the right choice. Washington's health club law (RCW 19.142) covers most clubs. Below are some tips to consider from the Washington State Attorney General's Office.
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Memberships and Contracts
If you buy a membership in a club not yet opened make sure:
- The contract includes the facility's opening date. That date must be within 12 months of the date you signed the contract; and
- Any money you pay must be put in a trust account or the club must carry a bond. If the club doesn't open on the specific date, you are entitled to a refund and can cancel within the first five business days the facility is open.
Purchasing Memberships & Signing the Contract
The health club must provide a written list of all membership plans, including the description and price of each. Special offers and discount prices must be in writing.
READ YOUR CONTRACT CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING! Understand all cancellation and refund provisions as well as the duration of the agreement. The following are items that must be in your WRITTEN contract:
- Name and address of the health studio operator;
- Date the contract was signed;
- A description of the equipment or services;
- Information about the length of the contract; clubs cannot sell "lifetime memberships;"
- The amount you're required to pay and whether/how these charges can be raised (under the law, dues cannot be raised more than once per year); and
- Information about your cancellation rights.
Before signing a contract, visit the club during the hours you expect to use the facility. Peak hours might reveal more people competing for equipment than anticipated.
Washington's Health Club law provides specific reasons and methods for cancellation. A couple of tips you should consider are:
- You must mail or deliver a WRITTEN notice to the club saying you want to cancel;
- If you are canceling under the three-day right to cancel and are mailing the notice, it must be postmarked by midnight of the third day;
- When mailing any cancellation notice, you should ask for a "return receipt" at the post office so you have proof the notice was received. Be sure to keep a copy of your cancellation request;
- If you hand-deliver the notice to the club, ask an employee to initial and date your copy of the notice, showing it was actually received;
- After you have properly cancelled your membership, you are under no obligation to continue making contract payments. However, you may still be obligated to pay the initiation fee after canceling the membership if you financed the initiation fee and signed a non-refundable clause.
Common Problems With Health Clubs
While there are numerous reputable health clubs in Washington, consumers have reported the following practices to the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division:
- Using high pressure sales pitches to embarrass or intimidate people into buying memberships;
- Offering low-cost "trial memberships" before pressuring consumers into buying more expensive memberships later;
- Making misrepresentations about the club's facilities, staff and equipment;
- Making it difficult or impossible to cancel contracts despite claims to the contrary during sales presentations; and
- Closing without warning, and in some cases, continuing to sell long-term memberships until they go out of business.
Within three (3) days after signing a contract, you can cancel your membership for any reason.
Cancellations must be in writing, and after receiving your written cancellation notice, the club has 30 days to refund your money.
At any time during your membership, if your contract runs for more than a year, you can cancel by giving 30 days written notice.
If your contract is later than one year, and you move more than 25 miles from the health club, you can cancel if no affiliated club within 25 miles of your new residence offers the same services at no additional charge.
If the health club closes permanently, and the owner does not have a comparable facility within 10 miles of the club, you can cancel and receive a pro-rated refund of your initiation fee.
If equipment or services which were promised in the contract are not completed by the date specified in the contract are not completed by the date of the contract, you are entitled to a full refund of your membership fee.
A health club cannot legally ask you to give up any of your rights under this law. Violations of the Health Club statute should be reported to the Consumer Protection Division by filing a consumer complaint online or through the mail. For more information, visit www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint. If you take a health club to court over violations of the law and you win, the health club will be required to pay for your attorney and court costs.