Gyms, fitness centers must allow members to cancel memberships or face legal consequences

State attorney general responds to consumer complaints during COVID-19 outbreak

In response to dozens of consumer complaints, Attorney General Bob Ferguson has sent an open letter to Washington fitness centers and gyms providing the following guidance:

* Gyms and fitness centers must allow customers to cancel their memberships at any time, for any reason, including the inability to access their gym or fitness due to the global pandemic, provided those requests are issued in writing.

* Members who cancel their gym and fitness center membership are legally entitled to a refund – not credits – of the unused portion of any prepaid fees or dues.

* Fitness centers must pay the refund within 30 days of receipt of a written notice of cancellation.

* Gyms and fitness centers cannot misrepresent these rights or prevent members from cancelling.

Ferguson’s letter warns that any gym failing to comply is violating the Washington State Consumer Protection Act, and will face legal action from his office, according to a news release Monday from the state Office of Attorney General.

“My office received dozens of complaints from Washington consumers that their fitness center is continuing to charge them membership fees in the midst of this crisis,” Ferguson said in the news release. “The law is clear: Washingtonians are allowed to cancel their gym memberships any time, for any reason.”

Ferguson’s guidance applies to all health studios, defined in the Washington State Health Studio Services Act as “any person or entity engaged in the sale of instruction, training, assistance or use of facilities which purport to assist patrons to improve their physical condition or appearance through physical exercise, body building, weight loss, figure development, the martial arts, or any other similar activity.”

Nothing in the law prohibits a fitness center from waiving the written requirement and accepting cancellations from its members by phone. Gyms can also comply with the law by not charging membership fees until gyms can safely reopen.

Ferguson’s office responded to every consumer complaint he received regarding gyms and fitness centers. The letter states that the Attorney General’s Office has contacted many gyms and fitness centers that have already frozen memberships or issued refunds.

Consumer Protection lawsuits brought by the Attorney General’s Office can seek civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation plus consumer restitution and reasonable attorney fees.

Anyone experiencing similar unfair business practices are encouraged to file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.

Consumer protection during coronavirus

Consumer complaints have increased significantly in the midst of the global pandemic. The Consumer Protection Division is responding to every consumer complaint related to COVID-19 by calling the consumer and demanding a response from the business within five business days.


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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at thebrunells@msn.com.
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