How to Break Up With Your Gym
So the threat of COVID-19 is keeping you out of public places — particularly those with heavily touched surfaces and heavy-breathing strangers. Maybe you’ve discovered the advantages of working out at home. For whatever reason, in these catastrophic times you’ve found yourself in a classic situation: You signed a contract for an expensive gym membership and aren’t using the damn thing. Can you extricate yourself from the commitment and save some money?
Today, the answer is the same as always: Maybe, maybe not; almost certainly not without some effort and maybe a fee. “Gym memberships are notoriously hard to quit,” says David Reischer, a New York City attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com. “Contracts are drafted in such a way as to not allow a person to quit without suffering a penalty.”
Ah, yes — much like working out itself. That said, there are ways to get around gym contracts, especially now. Here’s how to go about it.
1. Review Your Contract
Dig through your inbox or junk drawer to find those documents you signed when you joined the gym, and review each clause before you proceed. “First, I suggest reading the fine print of your contract so you can see the terms and what is expected of you should you wish to break it,” says Andrew Taylor, an attorney in Sydney, Australia, and director of Net Lawman.
See if there are provisions for cancellation. These commonly include:
- If you become disabled and are unable to use the gym.
- If you move a certain distance away from a gym or chain’s location (often 25 miles).
- When you give a certain number of days’ notice (usually in writing).
- If you pay a cancellation fee. “Sometimes there will be a kill fee, but if you’re not using your membership for certain reasons (such as COVID), it’s going to be well worth that to get out of it,” Taylor says.
2. Give the Gym a Call
If your membership is iron-clad — or the cancellation terms in the contract aren’t acceptable to you — you can give your gym a ring and see if they’ll let you out of your contract. But like many of us, gym owners are financially strapped right now, so don’t expect to bend a sympathetic ear. During normal times? Forget about it.
But while you have them on the line, there are other solutions you can suggest.
3. Propose a Transfer or Freeze
A potential compromise: “Try talking to the gym management and see if the membership can be transferred or temporarily frozen,” Reischer says. Gym contracts often include a provision for freezing memberships. If yours doesn’t, you might be able to negotiate one over the phone.
You might be able to pause billing on a monthly membership for a certain time, usually from one to six months. If you’re staying away from the gym because of COVID-19, that might be long enough for conditions to become safer, and you’ll save money until then.
Or if you have a friend or family member who’s willing to take over your membership, and your gym will allow it, you could have the gym shift the monthly charges to their credit card, or they could reimburse you for the balance of your prepaid yearly contract. (If you choose the latter, just do it formally through the gym; it’s not a great idea to let someone impersonate you in a venue where public nudity is commonplace.)
4. Know About “Impossibility to Perform”
Maybe, like this writer, you pre-paid for a yearlong membership exactly one month before the coronavirus shut down gyms everywhere. You might be wondering if you can get a refund because of the pandemic. Possibly — if your gym is still closed.
“A compelling legal argument can be made that the coronavirus pandemic makes the legality of the contract between gym owners and members an ‘impossibility’ to perform,” Reischer says. “That is to say, if the gyms couldn’t ever reopen, then it’s most likely that the gym would have to refund the monies due to their inability to perform under the terms of the contract.”
However, this isn’t much help if:
- You don’t want to take your gym to court.
- Your membership has been frozen by the gym until it reopens.
- Your gym has reopened and is following local guidelines on things like maximum capacity and sanitization.
“The gym owner’s attempt to mitigate the effect of the pandemic by following health department guidelines and making their best efforts to perform under the terms of the contract by safely reopening may satisfy a court that the original terms of the contract are still enforceable,” Reischer says. “A lawsuit against a gym demanding a refund for keeping membership fees even though the COVID-19 pandemic makes a person feel unsafe will probably be unsuccessful under those circumstances.”
5. Cut `Em Off
If you’re on a monthly contract, you have another option: Go nuclear. “Call your credit card company to dispute the charges and prevent further charges going forward,” Reischer says. “Typically, a person who unilaterally cancels the contract will not face a lawsuit, because most gyms collect sufficient upfront fees that they won’t waste their time pursuing a lawsuit for the remaining money due.”
But do this at your own risk. You could find yourself blacklisted from that gym or chain in the future. And credit card companies regularly conduct reviews on chargebacks; they might determine your claim is invalid and reinstate the charges.
Your best bet is to call your gym and negotiate a conscious uncoupling. Don’t be afraid to ask for terms that work for you — consumers do have leverage right now. “In terms of COVID, every company has their own way of dealing with it, and as of yet, there are no legal guidelines on how a business should operate, but many are offering some kind of waiver for the current situation,” Taylor says.
“Talk to your gym, explain the situation and your reluctance to continue your membership, and potentially place it on hold for another time. Which they may be interested in — they don’t want to lose you as a customer for their own survival.”