NJ could allow no-penalty canceling, pausing of gym memberships
Since your local gym reopened at limited capacity, have you felt comfortable attempting to return?
As health clubs throughout New Jersey try to bounce back from financial troubles caused by the COVID-19 public health crisis, a New Jersey lawmaker is trying to ensure you have every right to freeze or terminate your membership without facing any penalties.
Professionals in the industry suggest most health clubs are doing right by their members, and there's no need to create new laws mandating exemptions.
Under the measure introduced in late November by Assemblywoman Angela McKnight, D-Hudson, gym members would be able to place their membership on hold during a declared health emergency until it's lifted by the governor. During that time, any recurring payment obligation would be waived by the facility.
If the bill were to become law, a gym user also has the option to cancel their membership, even if a contract were to exist with several months left, and not pay a cancellation fee.
"During a pandemic, if I don't feel comfortable going to a gym, I should not be obligated to continue with a gym membership," McKnight told New Jersey 101.5.
McKnight said she crafted the bill after hearing from constituents who couldn't get out of their contracts once their club had reopened.
"The only thing that they could do was place their gym membership on hold, but they would have to call each month to do that," she said.
Kevin McHugh, who co-founded New Jersey Fitness Alliance in the spring and serves as chief operating officer for The Atlantic Club, said the industry has gone "over the top" to make sure that members had the option to freeze their memberships when gyms were given the green light to reopen in September.
At his facilities in Manasquan and Red Bank, which reopened at 25% capacity in October, members were given until Nov. 30 to decide whether or not they wanted to continue with their membership. In the meantime, their account could be on hold. There was no fee applied to those who chose not to continue with their membership.
McHugh said, though, a contract is a contract — whether it's for a health club or a cable company, and users are responsible for those contracts, pandemic or no pandemic. And if gyms are forced to close, they're not charging customers for the months when they're not allowed inside.
"Sometimes it's one outlier that affects one Assembly person and they start creating more guidelines and more regulations that our industry really doesn't need," McHugh said.
McHugh said it's possible that many New Jerseyans aren't contacting their gyms about policies and are assuming the worst.
New Jersey gyms remain at 25% capacity, and all customers, staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings. McHugh said health clubs have an extra layer of protection because customers check in with each entry, so should one member test positive for coronavirus, the facility will know which other members were potentially exposed.
McKnight's measure would also require health club facilities, during a state of emergency or public health emergency, to notify members about closing and reopening plans, and the buyer's payment obligations.
Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.