A friend recently ask if my gym was charging me monthly dues while it was closed due to COVID-19. Of course they weren’t charging. The week they closed I received a pro-rata refund for March and no fees would be charged until they open again.
Wasn’t every gym doing this?
Apparently, they aren’t.
I was very surprised when I found out my friend’s gym was charging her monthly fees even though she has not had access to the gym since March. I asked another friend and apparently her gym was charging her but would give her two “free” months at the end of her contract.
If you are being charged for a service you are not provided, to then be given that service at the end of the contract, it is not free – you paid for it.
When you sign up for a gym you sign a contract. No one ever really reads them. I mean, I work in contracts law and I barely read a gym contract. However, all contracts have fundamental principles. A service is offered, accepted and then provided in exchange for a fee. You should not be charged a fee for a service you are not being provided.
Understandably, things are tough right now. Businesses are suffering due to COVID (small businesses at the forefront) but that does not make it OK to resort to unethical and shady business practices. It is not OK to charge someone for access to a facility they cannot access. You, as a consumer, are not obligated to pay for a service you are not receiving. The gym in most likely in breach of contract and it is illegal for them to continue to charge you dues.
Disclosure: Before we go any further let me state that I am not an attorney. This is not legal advice. I am giving life advice based off of what I would do if I were in this situation.
You have options here:
First, assume positive intent. The gym may be working on refunding you. While they should have notified you, they may be backloaded. I would contact the gym (preferably via e-mail for records) and ask them when you are going to receive a refund.
Second, ask for a refund. If they respond and say you will not be refunded, or your months will be backloaded on to your contract, let them know you have full expectations to receive a refund for the time you were unable to access the facilities and that you would really appreciate a refund.
While this may seem like something we should dread, this is actually a great opportunity. Use this as practice (and to build confidence) for a situation down the road when the stakes may be higher.
Example 1: “While unfortunate, COVID is effecting us all. I have not been able to access the gym and a refund is a reasonable request. Will the refund go back on my credit card?”
Example 2: “Thank you for the offer to add two months onto my contract. I would rather have a refund for my dues for the times in which I was not able to access the gym due to COVID closures. When will you be refunding me?”
Third, be politely persistent. You never know until you ask, and sometimes you have to ask more than once. Continue to be politely persistent. Keep your main goal (a refund) in mind and keep asking. Just a few sentences will get your point across.
Example: “I understand this is what you are offering other members. However, this will not work for me. Please let me know when I will receive my refund. Unfortunately, I have to insist.”
Fourth, official dispute. If it gets to this you can dispute the charge on your credit card (most cc by logging into your account on-line). Hopefully it will not get here. I would go back and forth a few times with the gym before doing this. I would also notify the gym via email you are thinking about going this route before initiating the dispute.
In the event your gym offers you something in lieu of a refund
Say, 5 free months at the end of the contract (that will actually be free) or a large discount on massage services or smoothies, weigh your options. Do you even drink the smoothies? Will you be around for 5 more months after the contract expires? Can you ask for and get more? What happens if the gym ends up shutting down?
I know negotiations can seem intimidating, but think of it this way, you are going to end up with more than you had before. Try to think of it as a positive and have fun! The more you do it the easier it becomes. And, I mean, what else are you doing, watching “The Office” for the 5th time?
If you want to donate to your gym.
To help them stay open or pay rent that is your decision. You can make a donation and see if it is tax deductible. You should not be forced to pay dues for a service you are not receiving. It is unethical and business should not be allowed to operate this way. This is true for gyms and other facilities alike.
I understand it may feel onerous and maybe you are tempted to let the gym fees slide. Just keep this in mind, every time you stand up for what is right you make it easier for someone else. A large contributor to why we are in most of the messes we are in today, and why things are the way they currently are, is because people do not speak up. You are not being difficult and you are not burning bridges. You are asking for what you deserve. Standing up for yourself here will likely make you feel empowered.
You can do this. I am proud of you.
Get a refund? Not sure how to request a refund? Let me know in the comments below.