Health club contracts and its hassles


Most of us have good intentions when we join a health club. But many people find out they really don't have the time or energy to keep up the membership. And they quickly learn that getting out of a contract at the gym can sometimes be difficult.

Daniel Brezac thought the cancellation fee he paid eight years ago would be the end of his membership with Bally Total Fitness in Pleasant Hill. He paid the $50 dollar, plus $40 for his last month's membership.

"That okayed me to get out of the contract. I thought I wiped my hands of it," said Brezac.

That's because his contract stipulated if member moves further than 25 miles from health studio, he would be relieved of obligation of making payment.

He moved to Chico -- more than 100 miles from the nearest club. But Bally sent his account to collections, saying he failed to supply proof that he moved which is a requirement stated in his contract.

The bad mark on his credit report has stayed with him.

"I couldn't even go to Best Buy and get a TV right now if I wanted to," said Brezac.

Tamu Winbush of Oakland thought paying bally $756 would be enough to end her membership.

Bally sent her an offer, telling her: "For just 50 percent of your contractual obligation, the balance would be settled in full"

Yet weeks after she sent in a check dated March 23, she too was sent to collections. Bally's told 7 On Your Side it didn't receive the check before the March 26 deadline.

"I'm stuck here with my credit all bad, and I paid them off money that I really don't have," said Winbush.

Angelique Longi says attempts to get out of the health club made her sick.

"At the time I was so irritated by the whole situation. It stressed me out," said Longi.

She tried to get out of her contract within a month of signing it. But Bally told her she needed to go a minimum of 17 times within 60 days before canceling.

Bally said she used the club only 13 times -- a contention she disputes with records from her planner.

"This is Sunday, April 20th. This is the 17th time that I counted," said Longi.

A recent survey of 1,000 people by Consumer Reports found problems with contracts are a major concern among health club members.

"About 16 percent of our customers, of our readers, essentially complained that they had a difficult time getting out of a contract, or they had surprises with their contract, unexpected bills and such," said Consumer Reports Senior Editor Jeff Blyskal.

Readers singled out bally total fitness in that survey.

"It was actually higher at Bally. It was twice as high, more than twice as high at Bally," said Blyskal.

The club overall ranked last among health clubs in Consumer Reports survey, but Bally does better than average in ratings by the Better Business Bureau.

The better business bureau gives Bally a "BB" rating. That's the fifth highest rating out of 12 possible.

Still the Better Business Bureau received 2,700 complaints about Bally. Most of the complaints concerned contract terms and conditions.

The Better Business Bureau gave the club credit for responding to most of those complaints. But those who complained to us say they had a difficult time getting a response until 7 On Your Side got involved.

"It was always 'call this phone number and talk to whoever might be able to help you.' No one ever helped me," said Brezac.

"I tried to do the right thing, but doing the right thing doesn't always help with companies," said Winbush.

7 On Your Side took those complaints to Bally and after several months, the club agreed released Daniel, Tamu and Angelique from their contracts, to take their names out of collections and wiped the negative marks clean from their credit reports.

In an e-mail , a Bally's company spokesperson told 7 On Your Side: "Bally Total Fitness offers all new members the option to purchase an easy monthly payment plan membership designed for those members who choose not to make a long-term commitment. If after five days the new member in California is not completely satisfied, the member has the option to cancel the membership agreement without further obligation and to receive a full refund."

There are also discounted long-term commitment memberships as well. Tamu, Angelique and Daniel say they're both relieved and thankful this is over.

"I just want to thank you, Channel 7, for going out and being for the people," said Winbush.

"Thank you guys for finally helping me resolve this problem. It's been a big weight off my shoulder," said Longi.

"I couldn't believe it actually happened. Obviously I owe it all to you guys for really digging in and taking the time to help someone you barely even know," said Brezac.

In addition to helping these three people, two other people who recently contacted 7 On Your side for help have also been let out of their contracts.

But this story should be a warning for everyone: Before signing a long term contract with any health club, make sure this is something you really want because getting out of one can be extremely difficult.

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