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Exercising Your Rights at Membership Health Clubs

Are you still working on a New Year’s resolution to be fit? If that resolution involves a health club, make another resolution to understand your rights.

In Iowa, the “Physical Exercise Clubs” law protects consumers who sign membership contracts with most fitness centers. Examples of physical exercise clubs include health clubs and studios, tennis clubs, racquetball courts, golf clubs, gymnasiums, figure salons, weight control studios, and self-defense or martial arts establishments.

  • A membership contract cannot exceed three years. If the contract exceeds one year, the club must also offer a one-year option.
  • A membership contract cannot automatically renew.
  • The health club must provide a written list of all membership plans and prices.
  • The health club must provide the terms of its contract in writing, including complete rules and hours of operation. The contract must also include a statement of the buyer’s rights, as established by state law. The buyer must sign the contract in order for it to be valid.
  • Consumers have the right to cancel the contract within three business days. A consumer who cancels within three business days is entitled to a full refund, though the health club is allowed to withhold up to $20 from the refund. To cancel, the consumer must send or deliver by certified or registered mail a written cancellation notice.
  • A health club that offers membership contracts, upon request from a consumer, must provide a written list of the kind and quantity of available equipment, and services available to members.
  • A health club that offers membership contracts is not considered to be fully open for business until all of the listed equipment and services are available for use.
  • If a health club violates the Physical Exercise Clubs law, a consumer can cancel the contract. A consumer also has the right to file a lawsuit to recover the amount of the contract.
  • A health club that has not yet opened for business must deposit prepaid membership funds into an insured escrow account, or post a $150,000 bond with the Attorney General’s office.

Establishments are exempted from the law if they charge membership fees that don’t extend beyond 30 days, nonprofit organizations, private clubs, and facilities established primarily for physical rehabilitation.

If you’re thinking about joining a health club, see what’s available in the area. Check out the equipment, available services, and hours of operation. Before signing anything, be sure to understand the terms of the contract—especially the cost. What’s most important is not what a club tells you, but what it puts in writing.

If you have questions about your rights or wish to file a complaint, contact our Consumer Protection Division.

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