Gym memberships: how to avoid costly mistakes

Reporter: Lauren Sweeney
Published: Updated:

Shanda Coddington and her husband had a new year’s resolution to get healthier in 2017 that turned into quite the headache.

In January, they joined a gym and signed a year contract with the intent to go every day. But by March, they weren’t making it in to work out at all and wanted to cancel.

Under Florida law, gyms and health studios that offer long-term contracts have to include a provision to allow you to cancel the membership within three business days of giving notice.

However, the process of cancelling can be downright impossible.

“(The contract can say) If you want to cancel the contract you have to do it in writing at the location itself, you can’t call our corporate headquarters and cancel the contract,” said Carmen Dellutri, a Fort Myers consumer attorney.

For Coddington, each time she went in to cancel her membership, she said she was asked to scan her membership card prior to filling out a cancellation form.

At the end of the month, money would be debited from her account and when she called customer service they would tell her they had record of her scanning her card and using the gym.

“I do believe they were intentionally not letting me cancel,” she said.

She turned to social media to post a scathing review, and within a few days says her issue was resolved and she got refunded 80 percent of the extra membership fees.

Billing disputes and cancellation issues topped the list for complaints received on gyms and health studios by the West Florida Better Business Bureau in 2017.

The BBB recommends to take a facility tour and ask for a copy of the contract and read it over prior to signing it.

“You’ll find all sorts of things like arbitration clauses in these contracts. So if anything doesn’t pass the smell test, don’t do it. There are plenty of gyms around here that you can join,” said Dellutri.

If you sign a contract and need to cancel, he said do it in writing via certified letter to the owner of the gym or the corporate headquarters.

State law requires gyms and health studios to include several consumer protection provisions in the contracts. For example, if the facility shuts down or closes, it is required to provide a facility within five miles to honor memberships. If it cannot, then the contract can be cancelled.

Consumers can file complaints with the department of agriculture and consumer services.

Specialty facilities like dance and martial arts studios are exempt from state regulation.

For more information on your rights under the Health Studios Act, click here.

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