The Law | 11.14

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Flexing Your Rights

Gym contracts: everything you need to know.

BY DAVID HAKIMFAR

California’s “Health Studio Services Contract Law” governs contracts for gyms, or “health studio services.”

In fact, should you become injured by the gym’s failure to comply with the Health Studio Services Contract Law, you could file suit against the gym to recover three times the amount of resulting damages in addition to reasonable attorney’s fees. However, any failure of a gym to comply with these laws can be corrected, without penalty, within 30 days after you sign the contract, provided that the gym facilitates the correction—and you consent in writing.

RIGHT TO CANCEL

In California, every gym contract with an individual must be in writing. The contract may not require payments and initiation/initial membership fees that total more than $4,400 (since January 1, 2010), not including interest or finance charges, over the contract term. The duration of the agreement may not exceed three years or require payments for longer than the agreed term. Thus, a four-year written agreement would be illegal under California law and a two-year contract requiring payments for longer than two years would also be illegal. The “lifetime contracts” you may have heard about in the past are now prohibited.

California law also requires the agreement contain a provision that gives you a five-day right to cancel the contract. The face of the agreement must conspicuously disclose the a specific notice, in a size equal to at least 10-point bold type, close to the place for your signature, that you may essentially cancel the agreement within 5 business days of signing and how you may go about canceling.

Depending on how much total money the gym agreement obligates you to pay, you may have additional time to cancel as well. If the total value of the agreement is between $1,500 and $2,000, you have 20 days to cancel the agreement; between $2,001 and $2,500, you have 30 days to cancel; equal to or greater than $2,501 you have 45 days to cancel the contract.

The agreement must provide what facilities and services the agreement entitles you to access and receive and must say at what days and hours you may access the facilities. Any facilities, services or times of access that are not described in the contract are optional services and are considered to be separate contracts. Should the facilities at the gym, such as a swimming pool or tennis court, be eliminated or substantially reduced for more than a temporary basis due to reasonable repairs or improvements, you may cancel at any time. But if the gym told you in the agreement that the equipment or classes could be changed, then you may not have the right to cancel.

MOVING AWAY

You may also cancel the agreement if the contract does not allow you or your estate to cancel if you become disabled or die, and also if you move more than 25 miles from the facility.

In order to cancel on the basis of disability, a physician must verify the disability. Further, the disability must be of a kind that somehow affects your capacity to use or enjoy the gym’s facilities. In the event of death, a representative may cancel the contract without further payment necessary, and a prorated portion of any amount prepaid must be refunded to the representative.

You also may cancel the agreement if you move more than 25 miles from the gym and are unable to transfer the contract to a comparable facility. In this event, no further payments are required, and a prorated portion of any amount prepaid must be refunded to you. However, gyms may include in their agreement a provision that allows it to charge, or to withhold from the refund, a cancellation fee of not more than $100 (or $50 if more than half the contract life has expired).

Remember, if you enter into a contract with a gym and the gym fails to comply with the Health Studio Services Law, you have the right to sue the club for three times the amount of your damages, plus attorney’s fees. You can file an action in Small Claims Court on your own behalf. Attorneys cannot appear in Small Claims Court. This remedy is in addition to remedies available if the City Attorney’s Office files a case against the business for violating the law.

David Hakimfar is a trial attorney and senior partner of Hakimfar Law, PLC, and a member attorney of Pride Legal. He can be reached at 310-730-1250.