Everyone knows that gyms make it nearly impossible to terminate your membership. (It's such a well-known phenomenon that it earned its own episode of Friends!) So if abusive practices are nearly universal, there must not be any laws regulating gym memberships, right? Surprisingly, California law provides numerous protections to gym members and expressly prohibits most of the gyms' go-to sales and lock-in tactics. Here are the top eight illegal practices we've observed in consumer gym contracts.
(1) SELLING CLASS PASSES WITH ILLEGAL EXPIRATION DATES
Retailers, including gyms, are prohibited from selling “gift cards” or “gift certificates” with expiration dates. Courts have found that prepaid class passes qualify as “gift cards” under this law, meaning that your Spin classes, Pilates lessons, and yoga sessions can't expire. Yet fitness studios continue to sell prepaid class credits that expire in as little as one week--including SoulCycle, which just paid a $10 million class action settlement challenging the very same practice.
(2) MAKING IT IMPOSSIBLE TO GET A COPY OF YOUR CONTRACT
Gyms often make it very difficult to obtain a copy of your membership contract. This is on purpose: If you don’t have a copy of your contract, the gym is more likely to prevent you from exercising your right of cancellation. California tried to solve this problem by requiring gyms to provide you with a physical or email copy of your membership contract at the time you sign up. In fact, your entire contract is void if the gym fails to provide you with a copy of your contract—meaning you can quit at any time.
(3) REFUSING TO ALLOW YOU TO QUIT DURING A COOLING-OFF PERIOD
California law gives consumers the right to cancel any gym membership or class package within five days of purchase (or more, depending on the value of the contract). It also requires the gym to clearly inform you of this right in your membership contract in legible, bold font near your signature.
(4) CHARGING AN EXTRA MONTH AFTER YOU QUIT
Many gym contracts require you to provide 30 days’ notice of your intent to cancel. Pretty straightforward, right? Wrong. Most gyms tack on an extra month of membership fees by charging you for one billing cycle after you provide notice of your intent to cancel. Conveniently, this additional month is rarely disclosed to consumers when they sign month-to-month membership contracts. If your gym charges you for an additional month, point to the language in the contract requiring 30 days' notice--not 30 day's notice plus any time remaining in the next billing cycle.
(5) REQUIRING IN-PERSON CANCELLATIONS
California law provides that your gym contract must contain an email address to which consumers can send notice of cancellation. But many, if not most, gyms require you to cancel in person. This is an intentional tactic to prevent you from quitting. Most gym members who want to quit do not regularly go to the gym, suggesting it is inconvenient for them; moreover, once you arrive at the gym, you'll be subjected to a sales pitch designed to prevent you from cancelling.
(6) CHARGING UNDISCLOSED FEES
Sometimes gyms arbitrarily impose fees for "maintenance," "additional services," and other "enhancements." Even worse, some gyms charge an undisclosed "cancellation" fee in addition to extra month charged discussed in #4. If you are charged extra fees, look closely at your contract. If the gym didn't disclose the fees, they're probably illegal.
(7) REFUSING TO ALLOW MEDICAL CANCELLATIONS OR REFUNDS
California law requires gyms to allow you to terminate your membership for medical reasons that prevent you from using the facilities. (Gyms are allowed to require a doctor's note.) If you've prepaid for services, you are entitled to a refund. So if you purchase a 20-class package at a Spin studio, and you subsequently injure your knee, you are entitled to a refund for any unused classes.
(8) MAKING UNAUTHORIZED CHARGES OR WITHDRAWALS
Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, companies are prohibited from making unauthorized electronic charges (for instance, debit or credit card charges or ACH transfers). Many gym contracts authorize the gym to charge regular membership or class package fees to your credit card. But if the gym overcharges or charges you for services that don’t fall within your original contract, it may be breaking the law.
If your gym or former gym engages in the practices discussed above, we can help! We are investigating several cases against major commercial gyms and fitness chains. Contact us today with information or inquiries.