Because joining a health club, weight loss center or self defense school can be expensive, Maryland law has some provisions to protect consumers who join these facilities. Here's what you should check out before you pay money to join one:
All health clubs, weight loss centers and self-defense schools in Maryland must be registered with the Consumer Protection Division and, if they collect more than three months' payment in advance, must post a bond or letter of credit to protect those advance payments. Check whether your health club, weight loss center or self-defense school is registered and bonded. A registered business will fall into one of three categories:
Bonded: A business is required to post a bond or letter of credit with the Consumer Protection Division in order to protect consumers' advance payments. Advance payments are:
payments collected in advance for more than three months of services, including annual fees
initiation or any other upfront fees totaling more than $200, or
any money collected in advance for services for a facility that has not yet opened.
How large a bond must be posted.
Bond-exempt: These businesses do not accept more than three months dues or other payments in advance or charge initiation or any other up-front fees totaling more than $200.
Pay-per-day: These facilities charge for their services only on a pay-as-you-go basis. They do not charge any initiation fees or upfront fees, and may not charge for more than one day's services at any time.
Every health club, weight loss center or self-defense school contract must contain a "Notice of Consumer Rights." Facilities that do not use contracts must provide their customers with a copy of the Notice or post it prominently in their facility.
The Notice provided by a bonded or bond-exempt business must include: the business' registration number, whether the business is bonded or bond-exempt, the amount of the bond posted if the business is bonded, that the consumer may cancel the contract and receive a refund of all monies paid within three days of signing the contact, the consumer's rights if the business closes for a month or more and the consumer's right to an extension of the contract if the consumer is disabled for a period of three months or more.
The Notice provided by a pay-per-day business must include: the business' registration number, that the business is not required to carry a bond, that the business does not charge any initiation or upfront fees, that the business does not require consumers to purchase more than one day's services at a time and that the business does not collect payment from consumers prior to the day services are provided. For examples, see Sample Notices of Consumer Rights in the column on the left.
A long-term contract may not be right for you. Many people find they use a club regularly when they first join, but then quit going. Ask whether a month-to-month or other short-term contract or trial membership is available.
Regardless of the length of your contract, ask if you can pay monthly. If the club closes you may lose less money. Some clubs collect monthly but may also charge an annual fee.
Don't be pressured into signing a contract when you visit a club. Take it home and read it over. Make certain you understand all of the charges and that everything you want is included in the price you will pay. Also, make certain all promises made by the salesperson are reflected in the contract. Be sure to keep a copy of the signed contract and receipts for payments.
Under Maryland law, you can cancel a health club contract within three days of signing by giving written notice in person or by certified mail, return receipt requested. Make sure to keep a copy of your cancellation letter and the return receipt or get a receipt verifying your cancellation from the club. You may have other cancellation rights under your health club contract. Be sure to read over the contract and make sure you understand any additional cancellation rights you may have.
If your health club or fitness school closes, there are several things you will want to do immediately:
Contact your bank or credit card company to stop any automatic payments and to charge back any payments made for services not received. Just because the club has closed does not mean it will stop collecting money from you. However, if the club closes you are not obligated to continue making those payments.
If the club was bonded and if you have paid in advance, notify the Consumer Protection Division at
If the club changes ownership but remains open, ask the new owner for a contract containing the same terms as the one you have. Unless the new owner is honoring your old contract, you can't be required to join the new club. If you cannot get written confirmation that your old contract will be honored, contact the Consumer Protection Division at
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TDD: 410-576-6372