The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent closure of virtually all health clubs across the country have impacted the industry in unprecedented ways. Although the crisis is far from over, it is important to consider what the world might look like post-pandemic.
It is a common practice of legislators to create laws reactively. You can trace back almost every proposed piece of legislation to the actions of a business or individual, which inspires lawmakers to introduce a new law. Often, the actions of a few bad actors can result in tightened regulations for an entire industry. While most clubs have conducted themselves responsibly during these turbulent times, the actions of a handful of operators could result in a legislative backlash against clubs.
Cancellation of Membership Contracts
The vast majority of clubs have been working with their members to allow them to pay a modified membership rate, freeze or cancel their membership during the closures. A few bad actors sparked outrage due to their billing and cancellation policies, which required members to continue to pay the same membership rates even though they were unable to access the club, and did not give the members any other option. Some clubs are facing lawsuits over this issue.
While it is impossible to predict exactly what future legislation could look like, a bill introduced in the New York State Assembly earlier this year could be harbinger of what is to come and potentially be used as a template by other states in response to the actions of these bad actors.
NY A.8860 would change the law to require health clubs to do the following:
- Accept a member’s cancellation of a contract for any reason with 30 days notice.
- Refund the member per the canceled contract within 48 hours of receiving notice.
- Accept notice of cancellation in person, by mail, over the phone, through email, or online if the consumer was able to enter into the contract online.
The first requirement would essentially convert all health club contracts into 30-day contracts by allowing members to cancel their contract for any reason provided they give at least 30 days’ notice.
Due to the media storm and lawsuits, state legislators could be spurred into action and attempt to further legislate the regulation of health club membership contracts, which will only lead to more headaches for club operators.