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96 Health Clubs Settle With New York AG's Office For State Law Violations

ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- The New York State Attorney General's office announced settlements Thursday with 96 health club operators, who have agreed to modify their contracts and pay penalties and fines for violations of state law.

Investigators found widespread violations including failures to make required disclosures to customers and inclusion of unenforceable contract releases and liability waivers, according to the attorney general's office.

"Many people opt to sign up for a gym membership in January -- and then, you hope, actually go to the gym," said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. "As you consider your own wellness goals, follow a few basic tips to make sure you're getting the membership you want at the price you expect."

New York state law says all health club contracts can be canceled within three days of signing, Schneiderman said. They also can be canceled any time the club stops offering services listed in the contract or if the member has a doctor's order, he said.

Further, they can be canceled if the consumer moves 25 miles from any health club operated by the seller or has a significant physical disability for a period in excess of six months. Such notices must appear on all health club contracts, and they club must provide refunds within 15 days of such cancellations, he said.

Club operators that settled included Curves, based in Woodway, Texas, with multiple locations in New York state, penalized $2,650; and LA Fitness, based in upstate Greece, New York near Rochester, with multiple locations, penalized $6,750.

For a spreadsheet with a complete list of locations that were affected, click here (.xml).

The two companies did not immediately reply Thursday to a request for comment.

Many of the other club operators paid $250 penalties for single locations.

Schneiderman's office had some advice for consumers when selecting a health club:

• Become an educated consumer and visit or call more than one health club. About dues and when they must be paid, hours of operation, class schedules and ability to use more than one location.

• Do not give in to high-pressure sales tactics or feel pressured to sign up for a contract right away. A reputable gym will give customers enough time to peruse a contract, tour the facilities, and check out other options. Would-be members should tell health club representatives they need time to think about joining the club, and should ask for free passes to experience the club firsthand. You should also talk to other members, Schneiderman's office said.

• If a fitness center requires you to pay a downpayment or pre-pay dues, ask if the club is bonded or has filed the proper financial security to protect customers against losses of pre-paid dues. Health clubs are exempted from this requirement if they do not offer pre-paid memberships, or if they offer monthly memberships for under $150 that do not exceed one year and do not involve automatic renewals. To verify a club's compliance, consumers may call (518) 474-4429, fax (518) 473-6648 or write to the New York State Department of State, Division of Licensing Services at 84 Holland Ave., Albany, NY 12208.

• Determine your fitness goals and select the best facility for those goals. Those who have been inactive for some time or have a serious health condition are advised to talk to a doctor first.

• Consider the location. If the gym is across town from where you live or work, you likely won't go, Schneiderman's office noted.

• Consider also whether the memberships are affordable, as monthly gym fees can add up – and skyrocket after introductory periods are over, Schneiderman's office said.

• Look for health clubs that allow for monthly dues payments, and allow for cancellation for any reason. The grounds for cancellation are limited to those set by New York state law for those who sign a long-term contract.

• Be sure to get everything in writing, read contracts carefully, and be sure that all verbal promises made by the sales representative are included.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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