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Boston Sports Clubs finally stops collecting fees at closed gyms, but doesn’t offer refunds

The parking lot of the Boston Sports Club location in Methuen is empty, and the facility is closed.
The parking lot of the Boston Sports Club location in Methuen is empty, and the facility is closed.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Facing lawsuits and hundreds of customer complaints, Boston Sports Clubs notified members Wednesday night that it would stop collecting monthly dues for its closed gyms.

“We hope you and your loved ones are staying safe and healthy,” said the e-mail from Town Sports International, Boston Sports’ parent company. “We have adjusted our policies to align with your needs and industry best practices: As a result, your membership will be put on freeze — at no cost to you — going forward while we are temporarily closed. There is no action required on your part to enact the freeze.”

The e-mail said nothing about refunding the potentially millions of dollars it already collected since mid-March, when it closed all of its 186 clubs across the Northeast, including 30 in Massachusetts.

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It also told members they could go online to request the company cancel their membership, but it didn’t explicitly say the requests would be honored.

On Wednesday, the four Boston Sports members who sued the company in US District Court in Boston received refunds of their April dues. The credits came after the attorney for the plaintiffs, Lenny Kesten, notified the company’s lawyers it was seeking a court order freezing the April dues the company had already collected from its members.

It’s unclear whether any other refunds were issued.

“Rather than do the right thing for the consumers of Massachusetts, they are playing games by refunding the four that sued them,” said Kesten. “We’re calling on every member to contact us and we will file a lawsuit on all of their behalf. Apparently, asking them won’t do anything. You have to sue them to get your money back and we’re happy to do it."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey’s office, which has received almost 900 complaints against Boston Sports Clubs, said the company’s actions followed discussions with her staff.

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“We’re pleased that following conversations from our office, BSC agreed to stop charging members while its clubs are closed and to allow members to cancel without paying a fee or penalty, as required by state law. We’ll be watching closely to make sure the company does right by its clients going forward," said Healey.

Even as the company was collecting membership fees, it was furloughing or terminating thousands of employees, according to news reports. It also stopped paying rent to at least one of its Boston landlords, GTI Properties, which owns the space occupied by a Boston Sports Club on Harrison Ave. in the South End.

The landlord offered free parking for club members during the crisis and has “done everything possible to support their tenants and business during this time,” said the company’s controller, Marc Julien. “We are offering our commercial office tenants rent deferral programs, as well as providing numerous concessions for our retail, restaurant and residential tenants."

Multiple calls to Town Sports International’s corporate headquarters in New York were met with a busy signal. An e-mail sent to the company’s lawyers was not immediately returned.

The company’s Wednesday e-mail didn’t seem to quell the revolt among members, many of whom told the Globe they continue to be dissatisfied.

"I’ve been a member for almost three years, and the staff and trainers I’ve worked with are wonderful, dedicated people who deserve better treatment than what they’ve gotten,” wrote Morgan McDaniel, a member of the club in the Fenway.

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“I don’t trust the company to behave honorably at all. When this is all over, I’m going to be looking for an independent, local gym that treats its members and staff better, even if the cost is higher," she said.

The company, one of the largest gym chains in the Northeast, has 30 locations in Massachusetts, including more than 10 in Boston. Nationwide, it has more than 600,000 members at 186 clubs that use various names, according to the publicly traded company’s latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

A federal lawsuit against the company has had already been filed in New York. In that suit, the lawyers estimate that the company collects more than $30 million in monthly dues.

Other gyms, including Equinox and Blink, have stopped collecting monthly fees, according to the New York lawsuit.



Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.