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#343 Consumer Rights: Health Club and other Memberships

mp3 #343 Membership in Health Clubs and Spas (mp3 file)



Many people are now joining health clubs and spas to improve their bodies and overall health. In most communities, there are a variety of clubs to choose from, each offering its own package of equipment and services. Shopping for the right health club to meet your individual needs is important, so that you can get the most from your membership dollar. While most health clubs are reputable, some Californians have learned that not all health clubs are in the best of health.

The private health club industry is highly competitive and many spas have closed or gone bankrupt. The causes include poor management, under pricing of services, overbuilding of facilities, and occasionally fraud.

When a health club closes, members may be left without a place to work out after paying considerable amounts for memberships. And for those clubs which don't close, members may become disenchanted with the facility, if the club becomes overcrowded, poorly maintained or understaffed.

Here's some information on health club memberships in California:

Before you join, decide what kind of exercise program you want, and consider whether you really need to join a private health spa. A local YMCA, YWCA, community college or parks and recreation program might offer physical fitness classes that will meet your needs just as well, at much less expense. These locations often have pools, and offer a range of classes, including physical fitness, gymnastics and swimming.

-Identify spas which are conveniently located (for example, near work or near home). If you have to drive 15 miles to get to the spa, will you go as often?

-Compare costs among spas with the kind of services you want. Make sure you aren't paying too much for what you're getting.

-Visit the spa, and before you sign:

-Check out the spa's facility thoroughly. Ask if you may attend a workout class or try the equipment (under their supervision, of course).

-Are you satisfied with the spa's cleanliness and the condition of its equipment?

-Visit the spa at a time you would normally use it. Is it overcrowded?

-Ask if the club employs trained instructors. If so, what is their training? Are the instructors readily available?

-Learn about the club's reputation. Ask members how they like the spa. Consider contacting the local better business bureau or consumer affairs office, to learn if complaints have been made to these agencies.

-Ask about the spa's rules and regulations, and obtain a copy if one is available. Do these rules seem reasonable to you?

-Ask about the spa's special services. For example, is child care available at the facility?

-It's wise to discuss your planned exercise program with your physician before you sign anything.

-Ask if the spa closes at any time during the year for maintenance. If so, make sure your contract is extended during the time you aren't able to use the spa.

Carefully evaluate the various membership plans available to you. Consider paying a higher rate to join for a shorter period of time, perhaps on a month-to-month basis. You may actually save money by selecting a short term plan, if you lose interest in the exercise program after a few months, or in the event that the spa closes.

For added peace of mind, check if the company has filed for bankruptcy. You can do this by contacting the U.S. bankruptcy court (look in your telephone directory under U.S. Government Offices).

Your contract with the health spa must be in writing. Before signing it, read and understand all of its terms.

Don't be rushed into signing the contract, even if the health spa says that it must be signed right away. Ask for a copy to take home overnight.

If you don't like something in the contract, don't sign it. Ask the spa if the term may be changed. If the spa is not willing to make the change, you will either have to accept the contract as is, or go elsewhere.

Don't sign a contract with any blank spaces which could be filled in later. Make sure that any verbal promises are written on the contract, and initialed by both the spa's representative and you.

You must be given a copy of the contract after you sign it. The contract cannot require you to make payments totaling more than $1,000 (not including interest or finance charges), and the contract cannot require payments for more than three years. The contract may not provide services for more than three years. Lifetime contracts are unlawful. Renewals, of course, are permitted, and your rights (extending beyond the three-year maximum) may be included.

If you change your mind, you may cancel the contract by midnight of the third business day after signing the contract. When counting the days, don't count Sundays and holidays. The contract must advise you of your right to cancel, and where to send the notice.

If you cancel the contract, you must receive your refund within 10 days. The spa may make a deduction, for any health spa services you used before you cancelled the contract.

If you die or become disabled, neither you nor your estate has to pay the balance. If the contract is prepaid, the spa must refund the amount which covers the services you haven't used. The contract must disclose these rights.

If you move more than 25 miles from the spa and the spa is unable to transfer the contract to a comparable facility, you no longer have an obligation to make payments for any services you haven't yet received. If you have prepaid the fees, you are entitled to a refund for the time of service you did not use. However, the spa may charge a predetermined cancellation fee of not more than $100, (or $50 if more than half the contract life has passed). Again, the contract must disclose these rights.

Any services promised in the contract must be provided within six months of the date you signed it. If the spa has not yet opened when you join, it must open within six months after you sign the contract, or you may cancel your membership.

A contract that fails to comply with these requirements is unenforceable. In addition, if you can show in court that the contract you signed violated the law, you may be awarded reasonable attorney's fees, the cost of the lawsuit, and three times the amount of damages you suffered.

If the spa has not opened yet, be especially cautious before joining. Sometimes new spas close shortly after opening, or never open at all.

Ask what financial arrangements have been made to assure that the spa will eventually open, and stay open.

Ask what your refund rights are, if the firm goes out of business. Try to get this in writing, if you sign a membership contract.

If you have a problem, contact the spa's manager or owner.

If you are still unable to solve the problem, contact: -your local Better Business Bureau, or contact:

-Your local consumer protection agency (look in the yellow or white pages of your telephone directory under "consumer"). You may also contact,

-The California Department of Consumer Affairs at 1625 North Market Blvd., Sacramento, California 95834, on the web at www.dca.ca.gov  or call toll-free at 1-800-952-5210 -- from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, or contact

-The California Attorney General's Office, California Department of Justice, Attn: Public Inquiry Unit, P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, California 94244; on the web at http://ag.ca.gov or call toll-free 1-800-952-5225.

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