2007-02-23 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer As the door closed on 2006 a month ago, many people moved towards 2007 with New Year's resolutions.

Common personal promises like forwarding a career, beginning a hobby, and joining a gym will echo throughout the nation. If you resolve to make 2007 the year you join your local gym and get into shape, it is important to be aware of the regulations pertaining to health clubs in New York State.

Bright lights, a dazzling array of exercise equipment, the pulse of music coming from an aerobics class, and the persuasive pitch by a sales associate all may contribute 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 whether the club offers trial periods or free passes so that you can try it without having a long term obligation. Under the New York Health Club Services Act (NYHCSA), health club contracts cannot exceed $3,600 per year. However, this does not apply to contracts solely for the use of tennis or racquetball facilities. The NYHCSA also prohibits health club contracts that are for a term longer than thirty-six months. Under the Act, you can cancel a 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.

The law also requires health clubs to 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 include a notice of the bond or other financial security in all of their contracts and must post this notice in their facility. 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 PO Box 22001, Albany, NY 12201-2001.

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 next year, you should exercise your rights.

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