YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: Just in time for getting-back-into shape season after a severe winter, state authorities today announced fines against 53 New Jersey health clubs — seven of them in Bergen County — for failing to follow consumer protection laws.
The New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs fined the clubs a total of $283,500 in civil penalties.
According to the DCA, the unregistered clubs fined $5,000 today include:
Body Shop Fitness in North Arlington;
Crunch Fitness (Paramus Health Club LLC) in Paramus;
Crunch Fitness (Parisi Sports & Fitness LLC) in Fair Lawn;
Strong and Shapely Gym, Inc. in East Rutherford;
Training Grounds in Teaneck.
Also cited were clubs that the DCA said offered longer-term contracts without maintaining a state-mandated security bond.
Curves (K&W Fitness) in Ramsey, which was fined $5,250;
Lakeside Fitness Center in Oakland, fined $5,500.
“When consumers pay for a gym membership, they need to know the gym will be held accountable for maintaining its side of the contract. That is the purpose of our registration laws and other requirements,” Acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman said. “We are citing these health clubs for their alleged failure to comply with these consumer protection laws.”
The DCA, working with the state Division of Law, issued Notices of Violation and assessed a total of $165,000 in civil penalties against 31 unregistered health clubs, Hoffman said.
State law requires that all health clubs which devote at least 40 percent of their floor space to physical fitness services must register with the DCA and provide information about their ownership and operations, he noted.
The division also issued Notices of Violation and assessed $118,500 in penalties against 22 health clubs that are registered but allegedly violated state law by selling longer-term contracts to consumers, without maintaining a required security bond or letter of credit.
Under state law, any health club that offers contracts for longer than three months must post a security bond or letter of credit with the DCA — which Hoffman said assures a source for refunds to consumers if the place goes out of business or violates its contract.
“With better weather finally approaching, many New Jerseyans may feel inspired to ‘hit the gym’ and get in shape,” state DCA Acting Director Steve Lee said. “These consumers deserve the assurance that their health club is operating in compliance with the law – and that they won’t lose money on a long term contract if the health club goes out of business.”
DCA Supervising Investigator Murat Botas and investigators Oscar Mejia, Mitchell Bomrind, Roger Hines, Joseph Iasso, Ediz Laypan, and Donna Leslie conducted the investigation.
They visited 72 health clubs statewide, obtaining copies of contracts and other documents that they compared against state registration records.
Two companies – Physiques Unlimited, in Whippany, and Physiques Unlimited II, in Belleville – were assessed total penalties of $10,000 each because they failed to comply with earlier consent orders following investigations, authoriteis said.
Before signing a health club contract or paying a deposit, the DCA says, you should:
· Ask a friend or relative to recommend a good health club, then visit the club during the time of day when you would expect to use its facilities. Check to see whether you are satisfied with the equipment’s working order and cleanliness. If possible, talk with health club members to learn their impressions of the facilities.
· Ask for the health club’s State registration number. Then visit the Division of Consumer Affairs’ website at www.NJConsumerAffairs.gov to verify that the club is actively registered.
· If you decide to sign up for a membership for a period longer than three months, call the Division of Consumer Affairs at 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey ) or 973-504-6200 to learn whether the health club has posted the security bond as required by law. This security bond assures that a health club would be able to provide refunds to consumers, should the company cease business or violate their contracts.
· Be sure to demand a written contract that clearly indicates the full amount you must pay. State law requires that all health club contracts must be in writing. The contract must conspicuously set forth, on the contract’s first page, the buyer’s total payment obligation.
· Make sure to read it thoroughly and carefully, before you sign. Be sure you are fully aware of the services you will receive, and that you understand all contract terms. After signing a contract, you are entitled under State law to obtain a copy for your own records.
· Know your rights about cancellation. Under State law, the buyer may cancel a health club contract at any time within three operating days after receiving the contract. The buyer’s cancellation must be made in writing, by mail or personal delivery. After cancellation, the buyer is entitled to a full refund within 30 days.