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Gioia warns residents of city gyms’ hidden fees

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Gioia said a recent anonymous survey conducted by the City Council’s Investigation Division...

By Dan Trudeau

Queens residents looking to get in shape should be wary of signing contracts with area fitness centers, City Councilman Eric Gioia (D-Sunnyside) has cautioned.

Gioia said a recent anonymous survey conducted by the City Council’s Investigation Division and released by the Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which he chairs, revealed that many New York gyms are not up-front with new customers about hidden fees and contract commitments.

“Clubs that hide information from consumers by obscuring their fees and cancellation policies violate basic good business practices,” Gioia said in a statement. “Our report makes clear the need for full disclosure by health clubs operating in New York City.”

The survey showed that 80 percent of health clubs tested did not allow investigators to review the contract away from the gym and 41 percent failed to offer written explanations of their fees, Gioia said.

The investigation surveyed 27 health clubs, four of which were in Queens, affiliated with eight major chains in New York City.

Managers at several health clubs in Queens said Gioia’s complaints do not extend to their businesses. Frank Maiorana, manager of Next Step Health and Fitness in Bayside, said the relationship between members and management is completely open regarding the terms of contracts.

“They can take the paperwork home with them,” Maiorana said. “This doesn’t work like a lot of other places. It’s pretty up-front; there’s no yearly fee or required length of membership.”

When asked if potential customers had an opportunity to review contracts at home, Lorena Alava, supervisor for the Bally’s Total Fitness club in Jamaica, said, “Yes, of course.”

In response to the report, Gioia is proposing a Health Club Consumer Bill of Rights for New York City which would force health clubs to fully explain the terms of any customer contract before the customer signs. An important part of that proposal is a stipulation that all health club customers be allowed to take contracts home and review them before signing.

“Consumers should be given full disclosure of information before they sign a contract,” Gioia said. “This piece of legislation will ensure that every New Yorker who wishes to obtain health and fitness services has all the information they need so they can make an informed decision before committing to a health club.”

Gioia’s proposed legislation also includes stipulations to clarify the terms under which health club customers can cancel their memberships. According to Gioia’s report, 96 percent of surveyed health clubs failed to disclose all of the criteria that would allow customers to cancel their memberships before the term is completed.

New York state law allows customers to break health club contracts if they cancel within three days of signing, move 25 miles or farther from the health club, suffer an injury that prevents them from using the health club for a period of six months or if the health club fails to offer the services stated in the contract. Should Gioia’s bill be passed, health clubs would be forced to discuss these conditions with customers prior to signing.

Reach reporter Dan Trudeau by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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