Are gym contracts legally binding?
Yes. Like all contracts, gym membership contracts create a binding agreement between you and the gym, which lasts until the contract ends. The gym might be able to sue you to collect its membership fees if you stop paying before you are legally allowed to. It is important, then, to understand what you are agreeing to before you sign.
That said, there are ways to get out of a signed gym contract before it ends. Most gym contracts have a termination fee that will allow you to cancel your membership. This fee may decrease as you near the end of your contract. It may be worth it to end your contract and pay the fee, especially if you no longer want your gym membership. If you have difficulty determining the termination fee, ask the gym's staff or reach out to a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for help reviewing the contract.
Many gym contracts have terms that allow you to cancel your membership without paying a fee or penalty if you satisfy certain conditions, which may include:
- You move to a place further than a set distance (e.g., 25 miles) from the gym's nearest branch.
- You suffer an injury or illness, such as a broken bone, that keeps you from using your gym membership for an extended period of time.
- The service or class that you signed up for stops being offered.
- You are within a grace period specified by the contract.
Note that many gym contracts require cancellation notices to be made in writing or notarized. When you are ready to cancel, submit a Membership Cancellation Letter to the gym that includes your name, contact information, and account number. State your intent to cancel your membership, the cancellation’s effective date, and the applicable reason(s) you do not have to pay any fees. Ask the gym to verify receipt and whether it intends to comply, or if not, if it will inform you of what you need to do to cancel your membership.
If your gym won't let you cancel or you do not pay the cancellation fee, there are other options to reduce the amount you owe. For example, your gym may freeze your membership until you are ready to use it again or are in a better financial situation. Gym staff may allow you to switch to a cheaper membership plan. Finally, if allowed, you may find another person to assume the rest of your contract and transfer your membership to them.
What questions should you ask?
Ask these questions of gym staff to be sure you understand your gym contract before signing.
How much does it really cost?
Perhaps the most important information in any gym contract is exactly how much membership will cost. It may be more than just the quoted monthly fee. There may be additional fees, taxes, or other hidden costs. Knowing these details may provide an opportunity to negotiate with the gym. The gym may offer a discount for paying fees in advance or for other reasons.
What services are included?
Next, determine what you get with the membership. Often gyms have tiered membership plans so some members may not be entitled to all the services and facilities, or may need to pay extra to bring a guest. For example, some gyms offer classes or equipment to everyone, while others only provide classes or specialized equipment for certain membership levels or at an additional cost. The same may be true for the hours you can access the gym, or for access to other locations. If everything is included, there may still be limits, or requirements to provide your own equipment, such as yoga mats or blocks. Frequently, personal training and fitness coaching will require additional costs.
You also don't want to pay for things you won’t use. If you only intend to lift weights and run on the treadmill, you may not need to pay for access to the pool or unlimited yoga classes.
How long is the contract for?
Some gyms renew the contract each month. But many gyms lock you into a term of six months, a year, or more. Also, it is important to know if the contract auto-renews and, if so, how far in advance of the end of the contract you need to notify the gym to cancel renewal. It is always smart to calendar any contract renewal date into your smartphone so you get a reminder with enough time to cancel or review the contract.
How much will it cost to cancel the contract?
You may not intend to break the membership contract, but some things happen beyond your control. This is the time to ask about the cancellation policy and when you can cancel if something happens beyond your control, like the gym moving or service being reduced, or if you get injured. Even if the contract includes a grace period during which you can cancel, it may require you to pay fees for the days you used the service.
Is there a no contract option?
Finally, figure out all your options before you commit to a contract. It never hurts to ask what other plans are available, or if there are other discounts, before signing a membership contract. The goal of the gym is likely to get you signed up on the most expensive plan they offer, but there may be cheaper or no contract membership options.
Do gym contracts affect credit?
Yes and no. Gym contracts do not affect credit the same as your utility bills. Regular timely payments, or a few late payments, are not usually reported to credit bureaus, so they do not typically affect your credit score.
If you repeatedly miss payments, however, gym staff could report the missed payments to credit bureaus or even send your account to a collections agency. These actions will drive your credit score down.
What is the purpose of a gym’s liability waiver or Release of Liability?
Gyms use liability waivers or a Release of Liability to avoid being sued if someone gets injured on their property or using their equipment. The waiver or release may be included in your membership contract or it may be a separate document that the gym asks you to sign before your membership begins.
Waivers and releases are generally valid and will be upheld in court. This is particularly true if an injury was accidental or if gym staff were merely negligent. If you drop a heavy dumbbell on your foot or you slip and fall on the freshly mopped locker room floor, a waiver or release will likely prevent you from suing the gym for your injury. On the other hand, releases usually don't protect a gym from liability when their staff completely disregards the safety of members. For example, if a staff trainer knew that a broken elliptical machine was a danger to use and failed to tell anyone, block it off, or fix it, the gym may well be liable if someone gets injured while using it.
What laws about gym cancellation policies should I know?
Some states have laws that may limit gym membership costs, contract lengths, or specify cancellation procedures and other measures.
California's Health Studio Services Contract Law, for example, limits gym contracts to three years and $4,400 in fees over the term of the contract. The law also limits cancellation fees to $100, or $50 if more than half the contract has already passed. New York has a similar law that allows you to cancel a gym membership contract without fees and for any reason within three days of signing it.
If your gym contract violates one of these laws, you may be able to sue in small claims court to void the contract. Depending on the state, you may even be able to recover extra money as a penalty against the gym.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.