Open letter responds to Washington consumer complaints during Stay Home, Stay Healthy order
OLYMPIA — In response to dozens of consumer complaints, Attorney General Bob Ferguson today sent an open letter to Washington fitness centers and gyms providing the following guidance:
- Gyms and fitness centers must allow customers to cancel their memberships at any time, for any reason, including the inability to access their gym or fitness due to the global pandemic, provided those requests are issued in writing.
- Members who cancel their gym and fitness center membership are legally entitled to a refund – not credits – of the unused portion of any prepaid fees or dues.
- Fitness centers must pay the refund within 30 days of receipt of a written notice of cancellation.
- Gyms and fitness centers cannot misrepresent these rights or prevent members from cancelling.
Ferguson’s letter warns that any gym failing to comply is violating the Washington State Consumer Protection Act, and will face legal action from his office.
“My office received dozens of complaints from Washington consumers that their fitness center is continuing to charge them membership fees in the midst of this crisis,” Ferguson said. “The law is clear: Washingtonians are allowed to cancel their gym memberships any time, for any reason.”
Ferguson’s guidance applies to all health studios, defined in the Washington State Health Studio Services Act as “any person or entity engaged in the sale of instruction, training, assistance or use of facilities which purport to assist patrons to improve their physical condition or appearance through physical exercise, body building, weight loss, figure development, the martial arts, or any other similar activity.”
Nothing in the law prohibits a fitness center from waiving the written requirement and accepting cancellations from its members by phone. Gyms can also comply with the law by not charging membership fees until gyms can safely reopen.
Ferguson’s office responded to every consumer complaint he received regarding gyms and fitness centers. The letter states that the Attorney General’s Office has contacted many gyms and fitness centers that have already frozen memberships or issued refunds.
Consumer Protection lawsuits brought by the Attorney General’s Office can seek civil penalties of up to $2,000 per violation plus consumer restitution and reasonable attorney fees.
Anyone experiencing similar unfair business practices are encouraged to file a consumer complaint with the Attorney General’s Office at www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
Consumer protection during coronavirus
Consumer complaints have increased significantly in the midst of the global pandemic. The Consumer Protection Division is responding to every consumer complaint related to COVID-19 by calling the consumer and demanding a response from the business within 5 business days. Ferguson’s office reported that on Monday and Tuesday of this week, the office completed 108 calls to consumers and 50 calls to businesses.
This work is outside the Consumer Protection Division’s response to price gouging complaints. Earlier this month, Ferguson announced the “See It, Snap It, Send It” campaign, encouraging anyone who sees price gouging on essentials like hand sanitizer or disinfectant to snap a photo or take a screenshot, and then include the image with the complaint they file at the Attorney General’s website here. For more information on filing complaints, visit www.atg.wa.gov/file-complaint.
As of April 16, the Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division had received 884 complaints of price gouging. To date, Ferguson has sent a total of 10 cease-and-desist letters to businesses engaged in price gouging, and expects to send more. Investigators at the Attorney General’s Office have made more than 200 on-site visits to businesses related to price-gouging complaints.