Trading Cookies for Barbells? FindLaw.com's Legal Guide to Gym Contracts - FindLaw Insider
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Trading Cookies for Barbells? FindLaw.com's Legal Guide to Gym Contracts

Regardless of which holidays you observed between Thanksgiving and New Year's, you probably inhaled more fattening foods than you'd like to admit and perhaps imbibed a little more spirits than usual. Meanwhile, as the pumpkin pie and gravy works its "magic" on your belly and thighs, your unworn gym shoes continue to mock you from underneath the bed while you struggle just to get up.

So it's understandable that the typical New Year's Resolution involves the commitment to a gym membership. Health clubs tend to get really busy in January for this very reason, returning back to normal when enough newcomers renege on their resolutions (not you, of course!).

But what exactly are you signing up for? Even if you're personally committed to a healthier lifestyle, it's comforting to know that you have certain legal rights and protections with respect to your gym membership. Here are the basics:

Can You Negogiate the Terms of Your Membership?

Absolutely! Flexibility of terms differs from one health club to the next, but they would rather sign you up than see you walk out. Clubs expect an influx of new members every January, so they may offer some seemingly great deals -- but you really need to take the time to carefully read through the contract.

In fact, just walking out without signing a contract (but still expressing interest) may prompt the gym manager to offer you a better deal next time you visit or call. It never hurts to ask.

When shopping for a gym membership, make sure you get any verbal promises of rates or terms in writing; read the fine print in the contract for any limitations; understand the cancellation policy; and check your state's health club contract laws (more on that later).

Can You Break Your Gym Membership Contract?

Most health club contracts include an early termination fee, which you may incur if you decide to quit before the term of your membership has expired. Clubs may waive the fee if you are injured, are moving to a different city, or become otherwise unable to fulfill the contract. If this is the case, talk to the manager and explain your situation.

You also may consider filing a lawsuit to cancel your contract if you can prove some sort of misrepresentation of terms, illegality or unconscionability of the contract, or the inability to use your membership because of an injury or disability. See our blog post on "Can I Sue to Cancel My Gym Membership?" to learn more.

State Health Club Contract Laws

So many people have been burned by bad health club contracts that a number of states have enacted laws to protect consumers. A few examples are highlighted below:

  • Illinois: The Physical Fitness Services Act requires a three-day "cooling-off" period for cancellations and the waiver of cancellation fees for certain events, such as the relocation of the customer's residence or a verifiable disability.
  • Florida: Under Chapter 501.017 of the state's business regulations, gym members may cancel their contract and receive a refund of the unused portion if the gym relocates more than 5 driving miles away and fails to provide an equally suited facility closer to the original location within 30 days.
  • California: The Health Studios Services Contract Law requires health clubs to allow a five-day "cooling-off" period for cancellation of a contract with a full refund.

We know this is the year you'll finally stick with it. But just in case, it's always good to know your rights. Have a happy and invigorating New Year!