After a monthlong investigation into fitness clubs, state regulators said Wednesday they found many Boston-area gyms were misrepresenting prices and misleading consumers.
All 15 clubs examined had failed to display membership prices and fees “clearly and conspicuously,” as mandated by state law, according to the Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.
The investigation, conducted from December to January, found the clubs did not list pricing information on a wall for consumers to see. Instead, regulators said, membership rates, enrollment or termination fees, and a consumer’s three-day right to cancel after signing up were often listed incompletely on paper or told to customers verbally.
“In this age when we’re encouraging people to be fit and to work out, we want them to be good consumers about choosing the right club for them,” said Barbara Anthony, undersecretary for consumer affairs and business regulation. “How can you do that if you don’t have the necessary information at hand?”
Her agency referred the investigation's results to the attorney general’s office, which has the authority to take legal action.
Anthony said the investigation showed many clubs also impose “odd” fees on consumers. In addition to an enrollment fee to activate a membership, some gyms charge “rate lock guarantee fees” to ensure a member’s access to their original rate, “annual fees” that go toward maintenance or other services, or “termination fees” to cancel a contract.
“Termination fees are particularly concerning because the law says if you cancel your one-year contract after six months, for example, you’re entitled to a refund of what you have not used,” Anthony said. “The termination fees are way to circumvent that.”
But some gyms pushed back. They described the state’s findings as unfair or inaccurate.
“We’re very transparent in our pricing,” said Josh Smith, the general manager at Cambridge Athletic Club. “We have rate sheets printed out or we also show them to customers on a tablet — not to mention the three-day right to cancel is listed right there on the membership agreement and it always has been.”
But Anthony said Cambridge Athletic only discloses membership fees upon request, not on a wall, and the availability of the club’s contract is contingent on an agreement to sign up for a membership. She said the club’s termination fee, at $199, was one of the highest investigators found.
Pierre Marks, chief executive of VIM Fitness in Cambridge, said the demand to list prices on a wall was bizarre.
“The idea of posting it on a wall seems really strange to me,” he said. “The only industry where I see that happening in is restaurants, and not even all of them do that. We know the reputation gyms have about misleading consumers and we are absolutely the opposite of that.”
Most of the 15 clubs surveyed did not return calls from the Globe.
They included two Fitness Together locations, Reebok Cross-Fit, Women’s Fitness of Boston, Planet Fitness, Healthworks Fitness Centers, three Boston Sports Club locations, Evolve Fitness, Blast Fitness, YMCA Huntington Avenue in Boston, and the West Suburban YMCA in Newton.Alyssa Edes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @alyssaedes.