My wife, who is a teacher, insists that we work out at the local gym before we start our work day. Once school starts, she has calculated that we must be up at 5:30 a.m., five days a week, to adhere to the schedule imposed by the school year.
This timing is decidedly at odds with my natural rhythm, which dictates that I rise at the crack of noon. Nevertheless, she drags me bodily to our local sweatshop and amuses herself as I babble incoherently upon being greeted by the cheery receptionist. (Yet another reason to dread the gym.)
Has anyone ever counted how many local gyms we have? It appears that our valleys are overrun by those who would profit off my slovenly nature. Although I’m only aware of one health club in the San Lorenzo Valley, I believe there are seven in Scotts Valley, not counting specialty health clubs, such as tai chi, and so on.
Could it be we have more health clubs than coffee houses? That’s a bad ratio.
There are reasons, of course, that we are overrun by health clubs. The media batters us incessantly with perfect bodies and berates us to get healthier. Health clubs, therefore, have built-in publicity.
But there’s another reason health clubs keep popping up: Although many sign up for a health club with the best intentions, the majority fall away after only six weeks. Of those who remain, the average member goes but once every two weeks. This encourages health clubs to sell as many memberships as possible and, of course, try to sell a long-term contract knowing very well that in six weeks, most will not return.
From a capitalist perspective, this is a great business model: People pay you monthly for something they don’t use.
With such a business model, and bearing in mind P.T. Barnum’s timeless phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” what are the chances that somebody would take advantage of this situation?
Oh, you skeptics, I can hear you even as I sit at my keyboard. But, alas, the skeptics are right.
The cases of abuse were so pervasive that the Legislature got involved. In the preamble to the Contracts for Health Studio Services Act, our lawmakers described the playing field, among other adjectives, as “unfair, dishonest, deceptive, destructive, unscrupulous, fraudulent and discriminatory.”
The law gives a host of protections against health club contracts fueled by greed. The most important protection is your right to cancel the contract within five business days of signing it. This limit goes up depending on the total amount you will pay under the contract. If the total value of the contract is from $1,500 to $2,000, you have 20 days to cancel. If the total amount of money due is between $2,001 and $2,500, you have 30 days to cancel. And if the total amount is $2,501 or more, you have 45 days to cancel.
You may also cancel if you move more than 25 miles from the health club and there is no comparable facility you can transfer to, or if you become disabled — although there are some caveats. The contract is also canceled should you die. (Most types of contracts survive your death, and your estate pays the balance.)
With the knowledge that most people quit the gym within weeks, I’m of the opinion that no contract should be for more than six months. The law, however, allows contracts of up to three years. The law did, however, wipe out a popular device: the lifetime contract.
None of these rights can be waived. There are other rights under the Health Studio Services Act. For a more complete summary of all your rights, go to www.dca.ca.gov/publications/legal_guides/w-10.shtml.
I must have signed my health club contract at 5:30 in the morning, because I can’t remember doing it. I may be healthier for it, but I feel like I need a nap.
At least I will have the right to cancel after I wake up.
• Gary Redenbacher of Scotts Valley is an attorney in private practice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.