In 1990 the Pennsylvania legislature passed the Pennsylvania Health Club Act (“HCA”), 73 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 2161, et seq., which provides broad protections to health club members. The HCA requires that health clubs include specific terms in membership contracts. This guide explains some of these
Q. I just signed a health club contact, but Iâve changed my mind. Can I get out of it?
A. Yes, you have the right to cancel within 3 business days of signing a new health club contract. Specifically, the HCA Â§ 2163 requires that all health club contracts include a provision allowing consumers to rescind the contract, without penalty, within 3 business days of its signing. This means that the health club must refund to you all of the money you paid, including any initiation fee and/or membership dues paid under the contract, when the club receives a written notice of cancellation.
Q. How do I rescind my health club contract?
A. To cancel or rescind your contract under HCA Â§ 2163, you must send a written notification to the health club that clearly states that you wish to cancel the contract and receive a full refund of all fees and dues paid. Make sure that you send the cancellation notice by certified mail with a return receipt requested. Also, make sure that you keep a copy of your cancellation letter and the certified mail receipt so that you can prove that you sent your cancellation request to the company within the 3 business day time limit.
Q. I have become temporarily disabled and cannot use the gym. What can I do with my health club contract?
A. Under the HCA, the club is required to extend your membership, at no additional cost, for the amount of time you have a temporary disability (i.e., a disability lasting less than 6 months). To qualify for a temporary disability under the HCA, the condition must prevent you from using âone-third or more of the health club facilities for up to six months.â You will need a doctor to certify your disability if the club asks for verification.
Q. I have become permanently disabled. Can I get my money back?
A. Yes. If you become permanently disabled (i.e., disabled for a period more than 6 months), the HCA gives you the right to cancel your health club contract. Additionally, in the case of a permanent disability, the HCA requires the health club to refund you the fees and dues remaining on your contract. The HCA includes a mathematical formula to calculate the amount of the refund from the club. To take advantage of this provision of the HCA, you must send written notice of cancellation to the health club. Also, make sure you save a photocopy of your cancellation letter. It is strongly recommended that you send your cancellation letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
Q. I am moving and will be too far away to use the gym. Can I cancel my contract?
A. Probably. The HCA gives you the right to cancel your contract if you move more than 25 additional miles from the health club and the club is unable to transfer your membership to a comparable facility located within 5 miles of your new residence. Again, you need to send written notice to the health club explaining the reason why you want to cancel. Also, make sure you save a photocopy of your cancellation letter. It is strongly recommended that you send your cancellation letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
Q. My health club contract automatically renews every year. Is this legal?
A. Probably not. HCA Â§ 2164 forbids automatic renewal provisions in health club contracts unless the consumer is given an option to renew that contract that must be affirmatively accepted by the consumer at the expiration of the contract.
Q. A gym wants to sell me a lifetime membership. Is there a limit on the duration of health club contracts?
A. Yes, there is a limit on how long health club contracts can last. Under the HCA Â§ 2164, no health club contract can exceed 36 months (i.e., 3 years). Accordingly, lifetime contracts are illegal under the HCA and you should never agree to enter into one.
Q. How much can a health club charge for initiation fees?
A. Under the HCA, health clubs are limited in the amount that they can charge for membership initiation fees. Specifically, under HCA Â§ 2165, âthe amount of any initiation fees imposed by a health club must be reasonably related to the clubâs costs for establishing the initial health club membership.â In other words, the amount of the initiation fees must be roughly the same amount that it costs the club to start up your membership.
Q. What happens if I sign a health club contract that is misleading or deceptive?
A. Misleading and deceptive contracts are voidable at the option of the consumer. The HCA prohibits health clubs from engaging in practices that are deceptive and misleading. HCA Â§ 2169 states: âA health club contract entered into by the buyer due to false or misleading information, representation or advertisement of the health club or its agents shall be voidable at the option of the buyer.â Thus, contracts that violate the HCA are void and unenforceable against the consumer.
Q. My health club went out of business before my membership expired. Is there any way that I can get my money back?
A. Maybe. Under HCA Â§ 2171, a health club must file with the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection a certificate of financial security to certify that the health club has posted a bond or obtained an irrevocable letter of credit from a bank for the sole purpose of providing consumer refunds if the club closes. The amount of the bond or letter of credit is determined by the length of a health clubâs contracts, and the number of members of the club. Also, you have 6 months to file a lawsuit based on the bond or letter of credit. This will probably require the assistance of an attorney and potentially could be pursued as a class action to recover dues paid by all club members whose contracts had not expired when the club closed. In addition, under HCA Â§ 2167, any contract entered into within 30 days of the closing of a health club is voidable by the consumer.
Q. Can I sue if a health club violates the terms of the HCA?
A. Yes. Under the HCA Â§ 2175(a), a violation of the HCA constitutes a violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (âUTPCPLâ), 73 PA. CONS. STAT. Â§Â§ 201-1, et seq. This provision of the HCA gives consumers the right to sue for violations of the HCA under the UTPCPL.