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Consumer Alert

Some health clubs run afoul of consumer protections

There’s something about health club memberships that have long made them a sore spot for consumers. Not every gym rubs people the wrong way, but a lot of people get trapped by contracts, surprised by fees, and shocked when trial memberships convert to annual memberships.

Some of these businesses, aware of consumer mistrust, have turned to a gentler approach — offering month-to-month arrangements with well-disclosed fees. But a recent investigation of Boston area clubs by the state Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation, which oversees the industry, revealed that problems are still widespread.

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In a survey of 15 clubs, investigators found that not one followed state law by properly displaying membership prices and fees or notice of the right to cancel a contract within three days. Only two of the 15 clubs provided the terms of the contract before trying to get a signature. The violations were referred to the attorney general’s office.

If you cancel a contract within three days of signing it, you must do it in writing — either in person or with a postmark reflecting you are within the window. The club then has 15 days to refund any money paid minus payment for the time you used the facilities.

After three days, the ability to cancel is limited to these reasons:

 You’ve moved or changed employers at least 25 miles from one of the club’s facilities.

A doctor certifies that you cannot safely use the services of the club for more than three months.

Death.

The club fails to open a location or closes one.

A “substantial change” to club operations.

Clubs cannot charge cancellation fees for any of the above reasons.

Going to the gym should be a good thing, so do some homework to be sure your workout location ends up working out.

Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at ConsumerNews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.
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