I made a big mistake a couple months ago, but it took until now to realize it.
I didn’t listen to my gut.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that my gut is a surprisingly good compass. It computes information that I know before I can actually formulate it into full thoughts and arguments. It’s what helped me kick bad boyfriends to the curb when my heart kept pleading to hold on. It’s what gave me the nerve to tell a builder to get stuffed and then walk away when they tried to make me sign a contract that was heavily lopsided in their favour. It told me to buy stocks, which I didn’t, and then kicked myself heavily for.
Last summer I decided to join a gym with a friend. We used to meet for coffee at Starbucks, and decided to start meeting at the gym instead. She had a membership through work to one of the major fitness chains that my work promoted as well, so I looked into it. Their website was professional, but nowhere did it mention their membership pricing. Red flag one. I hit google to see if I could find their prices, but again, they were no where to be found.
So I went into the gym and asked the girls at the front desk for a price schedule. They said they couldn’t give me one, but that they could book me in with a fitness consultant to discuss the different options available. Red flag two. I wanted to meet my friend at the gym, and the gym closest to our houses seemed questionable, so I booked in with the fitness consultant the next day.
I told the fitness consultant as soon as we were in the office that the lack of transparancy in their pricing was raising some major red flags for me. She said she fully understood my concern, but assured me there was nothing to be worried about. I told her that I did not want to be locked into a fixed term contract, so she pulled out a binder and showed me my options. We decided that a month to month membership with biweekly billing would be my best bet. When I inquired about their cancellation policy, I was told I could cancel at any time, but if I didn’t cancel before their billing cycle cut off that another payment would come out of my account. It seemed fair. She filled out the pricing information on the front of the paperwork: It would be $29 biweekly for the first 12 months, but if I stayed with the gym for longer than a year the price would drop to $24 biweekly. I read over the fine print on the back of the contract, and didn’t see anything that was a cause for alarm. So, I signed.
For the next few months everything was great. It was a nice gym, lots of amenities, newer equipment, and it was never overcrowded. Unfortunately however, with my shift work the way it is, my friend and I were finding it hard to meet up on a regular basis, and I found I wasn’t using the gym enough to make keeping the membership worthwhile. I decided at the end of December that I would cancel my membership before the explosion of New Years resolution members hit the floor.
I went in to the gym in person and let them know I wanted to cancel my membership. I was taken to an office by one of the fitness consultants, and we filled out the paperwork. She then told me that there was a $149 cancellation fee. My blood went cold. I asked her what she was talking about, because there wasn’t supposed to be a fee on my membership because I’m not locked in to a fixed term contract. She pulled up my account and said I had a 1 year membership with biweekly billing. I was also told that until the gym received the fee, they would not process my paperwork. After some back and forth about the matter, she left a note on my cancellation form for the general manager to call me when he was back in the office two days later, as he was on holidays.
I went home and dug up my contract. It was exactly as I remembered it, with the pricing written on the front under the month to month section, and no mention of a cancellation fee in the fine print on the reverse.
I waited all day for a phone call from the manager on the day I was told he’d be back. Nothing. So I went into the gym. The receptionist called his office and let him know I wanted to speak to him, and she was told he was busy. Instead they passed me off to the assistant manager. When the assistant manager proved to be about as useful as the fitness consultant, I insisted on speaking to the manager.
You know sometimes you can tell a sleaze ball by looking at them? I knew the minute I saw him.
I pulled my contract out and showed it to him. He pointed to the what I had been told was the pricing section, and said that I had agreed to pay them for 12 months. I realized the contract was completely ambiguous as to what that section actually meant. He then pulled out a binder and flipped to another page I was never shown, showing an open contract rate that was $5 biweekly higher than the one I had been told was the open one. I had been lied to. We argued in circles over it for a good 5-10 minutes, and during that time I caught them in 3 different lies. When I called him on it, he just said that’s what they did when they had to deal with difficult customers. They also implied that I was trying to lie my way out of a contract that I had knowingly agreed to, and told me they weren’t going to do anything about it. Because the whole process of signing up is based on verbal communication, I couldn’t physically prove anything. He turned the situation into a he says she says argument with such skill that I’m fairly certain it’s been done many times before.
I left the gym in a fit of rage, and cried the whole way home.
That night I filed a detailed complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The company’s response? That I have to pay the cancellation fee, but that they would cancel the autorenew on my contract. How generously useless of them.
Their position? That I’m just another customer trying to get out of a contract without paying what I owe. My position? I’m the victim of a bait and switch, and that their undeclared cancellation fee amounts to no less than extortion; I can either pay them money, or I can continue paying them money. What lovely options.
Their contract is ambiguous, and if I’m not mistaken in contract law interpretation sides with the person who did not write the contract. The fee is also not stipulated in the contract. Legally it’s unenforcable, but until I pay them they won’t stop taking my money. I’d contact my credit card to stop payment, but I’ve read too many instances where gyms sent accounts to collections over exactly that.
The only way to do anything about this would be to take them to small claims court. Over $149. This is why places get away with doing this to people. Do I want to get up in front of a judge and fight their corporate lawyers when I can’t prove one way or another that they’ve lied to me? The whole ordeal has already cost me over a week’s worth of sleep, and my face is breaking out something fierce. I’m ashamed to say it, but I don’t have the nerves required for me to do it. In a country that practices tort law, I’m being part of the problem by not taking this predatory business to task. To my fellow Canadians, I’m sorry.
I’m going to send them their cancellation fee. I’m going to send it through registered mail, so I know when they’ve received it. As soon as they do I’m going to call my credit card company to let them know what day they received it, so that if they try to take payment from my card after the contract termination date I’m in a better position to fight it.
I thought I had done my due diligence when I read through the fine print on the contract, but in the end I should have listened to my gut.
My list of blacklisted companies is short, now sitting at a total of two. The first one was added to the list over a decade ago. World Health Fitness, welcome to the list. You unscrupulous, swindling, money grubbing thieves.
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