In order to maintain a healthy body, get into shape or lose weight, you may have joined or considered joining a health spa or fitness center. You are in good company, as many people regularly use and enjoy their spas. However, there are common complaints about health spas:
- Misrepresentation concerning facilities or services.
- High-pressure sales tactics.
- Spas closing or going out of business with little or no notice.
The provisions of Georgia law, O.C.G.A. Section 10-1-393.2, regulate health spa membership contracts and require certain disclosures. When joining a health spa, you should consider the following:
The contract. The health spa membership contract must by law include information regarding the length of the contract, the cost to the consumer, your right to cancel, the cancellation process, and your rights and responsibilities in such events as a change in the services offered by the health spa or the onset of a physical disability. The contract must also state the name and address of the spa, the date of the transaction and all rules and regulations governing the use of the spa's facilities and services.
READ the contract carefully and familiarize yourself with the terms. Since Georgia law requires that the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division approve all contract forms used by health spas, ask to see the letter from the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division authorizing the specific contract offered.
Any additional terms agreed upon between you and the health spa must be written into the contract. The law requires that you be given a copy of the completed contract at the time it is executed. Be sure to obtain your copy of the contract and keep it with your important papers.
The total cost of the contract. Be aware that you are entering into a legally-binding contract that will obligate you to make monthly payments for the term of the contract, whether you use the facility or not. If you choose to finance your contract, you should be aware of the additional finance charges that will be imposed.
The length of the contract. Georgia law limits health spa contracts to a period of 36 months. However, due to the tendency of health spas to cease operation, it is recommended that you join for the shortest period available. A month-to-month contract is preferable, although it might be slightly more expensive. If you choose to pay for services in advance, be aware that if the health spa closes, you might be forced to file an action through the court system in order to recoup your costs.
The payment plan. A pay-as-you-go plan is the preferred method of payment. However, most spas now insist on an automatic draft as the method of payment. If so, you should never elect to have your payment drafted from your personal checking account. If you choose the draft method of payment, a major credit card should be used since this will offer you a refund to your account if future problems arise.
Cancellation. Georgia law allows a consumer seven business days to cancel a health spa contract. You are not required to state the reason, or even have a reason, in order to cancel your membership within this period. If you choose to cancel, you must do so by midnight of the seventh business day after the date of signing of the contract, and the cancellation must be done in accordance with the terms of the contract. In order to evaluate the health spa and its services, be sure to use the facility on the days that you intend to exercise during this initial period.
Make sure to read all the terms of the contract regarding cancellation so that you fully comply with the process. A written and acknowledged notice of cancellation is necessary. Verbal cancellations, either in person or by phone, will not suffice if the cancellation is questioned.
If your membership is canceled in a timely manner and in accordance with the terms set forth in the contract, the health spa should refund any payments made under the contract minus the fair market value of any services you actually received (which should never exceed $100).
You are also entitled to cancel your health spa membership contract within 30 days from the time you knew or should have known of any substantial change in the services or programs available at the time. Substantial changes include but are not limited to:
- The facility changing from being coed to being exclusively for one gender and vice versa.
- The health spa no longer offers a substantial service which was offered when you signed the membership contract.
- The health spa closes and cannot offer a substantially similar alternative location within ten miles of the original facility.
- During the term of the contract, you become disabled with a condition that prohibits you from using the spa to the extent you used the facilities before the condition occurred. You must have had the disability for more than 45 days and may be required to submit proof of the disability.
Pre-sale contracts. Georgia law requires that all monies received through the pre-sale of memberships to a health spa facility that is not yet fully operational and available for use shall be placed in an escrow account that is monitored by the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. The membership funds will not be released to the health spa until it becomes fully operational and available for use. At that time, you have seven business days to cancel your contract.
Complaints involving health spa membership should be directed to the Georgia Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
Complaints involving the cleanliness of health spas should be directed to the county health department.
Complaints involving additional contracted services, such as for a personal trainer, should be pursued through magistrate court.
- Make sure you understand whether the spa offers services or can meet needs that are unique to your situation, such as extended operating hours, in-house child care services, or the availability and cost of a personal trainer, before you sign any contract.
- Never sign a blank contract or an incomplete contract.
- Understand that the health spa contract is binding, and you will not be released from your contractual obligation to make payments even if you should decide to stop using the spa.
- If your health spa membership contract is serviced by a finance company and the spa closes, immediately notify the finance company in writing so that you are not obligated to continue making payments.
- If you authorized the spa to withdraw your monthly payments from your bank account automatically and the spa closes, immediately notify the bank in writing to cease making deductions.
- Consider joining a spa on a month-to-month basis, or for the shortest term possible, so you can evaluate the spa before committing to a long-term membership.
- Be aware that you are paying for future services if you make any payment toward a health spa membership prior to the opening of the facility. If the spa fails to open, you may lose your money.
- Be aware of spas that charge graduated fees, such as $800 for the first year, $400 for the second year and $50 for the third. They know from experience that the majority of members lose interest before the end of the contract.
Consider these additional guidelines from The International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association:
Finding a Club
- Ask friends, family members and co-workers where they work out and why.
- Look for one that's convenient — close to your job or home, so you don't have to make a special trip to work out.
Before You Sign Up
When you visit a fitness facility, have a list of questions ready, including:
- What are the annual and monthly fees? Are there additional fees for towels or mats? And does your membership cover guest passes at clubs in other cities?
- If you have a specific health problem, can the staff address it with the appropriate exercises? Do they have a first-aid plan for emergencies?
- How old is the equipment?
- At what times are classes and pieces of equipment most crowded?
And ask yourself:
- Does the club reflect my interests? Is there enough variety to keep me motivated? On the other hand, am I sure I won't be paying for programs and services I'll never use?
- Is the club and its equipment clean and in working order? This includes locker rooms and other areas not devoted to fitness.
- Are the staff members and trainers friendly and helpful? Do the fitness pros have appropriate credentials?