2003-06-27 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Who can forget the advertisement depicting the muscular bully at the beach kicking sand on a skinny guy lying on a blanket? The ad touted the rewards of a physical fitness regimen by showing the once skinny guy, after working out and gaining muscles, kicking sand back at the bully. Now that summer has arrived, many of us have dreams of achieving the idealistic beach-body. The plan to achieve Herculean or Venus-like attributes often begins with a membership to a health club or spa. Before you rush into a membership plan, you should be familiar with the regulations pertaining to New York health clubs.

Bright lights, a dazzling array of exercise equipment, the pulse of music coming from a box-aerobics class, and the persuasive pitch by a sales associate whose physique seems chiseled by Michelangelo are all elements contributing to a quick decision to enter into a contract with a health club. Nevertheless, before you sign any contract, you should visit or call at least two other health clubs to ensure that the club with which you sign up is the club that will best meet your needs. For comparison purposes, you should learn about a club’s dues and when they must be paid, the hours of operation, the variety, frequency, and size of classes, the ability to use multiple locations if applicable, and the training and expertise of the staff. You should also inquire about joining the club for a trial period or find out if the club gives free passes so that you can try the club without having a long term obligation.

Under the New York Health Club Services Act (NYHCSA), health club contracts cannot exceed $3,600 per year.1 However, this does not apply to contracts solely for the use of tennis or racquet ball facilities. The NYHCSA also prohibits health club contracts that are for a term longer than thirty-six months. Under the Act, you can cancel the membership contract within three days of signing it and at any time if the health club ceases to offer the services stated in the contract or if you move twenty-five miles from any health club operated by the club with which you signed a contract. You are also able to cancel the contract upon a doctor’s orders; if you become physically disabled for a period in excess of six months, or upon death.2

Another level of protection for the consumer is the mandate that health clubs file a bond or other type of financial security with the Secretary of State. This is to protect consumers who have pre-paid for memberships if the health club closes prior to the expiration of the contract. Clubs are required to put a notice of the bond or other financial security in all of their contracts and must post this notice in their club. Clubs are exempt from filing a bond or other financial security if they do not offer pre-paid memberships or if payments do not exceed $150. Clubs are also exempt if memberships do not exceed one year and the contract does not contain an automatic renewal provision. To check if a club has filed a bond or other financial security, you can call (518) 474-4429, fax (518) 473-6648, or write to the New York State Department of State, Division of Licensing Services at 84 Holland Avenue, Albany, New York 12208.

In order to increase the security and protections under the NYHCSA, I introduced bill A.6821. This bill would require health club facilities to employ at least one person trained and certified in first-aid and adult cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This bill mirrors provisions of previously enacted laws requiring coaches of extra-curricular activities to be trained in first-aid and CPR for public schools, which was enacted in 1991, and for private schools, which was enacted in 1994.

Remember, before you sign a membership contract, investigate your options and decide on the club that is best suited to your needs. Besides the desire to exercise your body this summer, you should exercise your rights.

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