Fitness Centres, Yoga Studios, and Other “Continuing Service Contracts”
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Dean Davison, Davison North Law in January 2020.|
Thinking of joining a fitness centre or yoga studio? Or taking other ongoing classes? Special rules apply to these types of contracts. Learn about these arrangements, including how to get out of them if you're not happy.
What you should know
Special rules apply
A service you get that that continues over time — like a gym membership or self-defence lessons — is legally different from a one-shot deal like a haircut. These agreements are called continuing service contracts, and there are special rules for them.
The contract must include certain information
When you sign up, make sure the contract has the following:
- the name, address, and phone number of the service provider — and the email address too if you bought online
- detailed information about the product
- the total price, with a breakdown of taxes and other charges
- your cancellation rights
- the amount due each payment period — weekly, monthly or whatever period is in play
- if it’s for classes, a description of when they will take place, and any details on missed or make-up classes
The contract can’t be for more than two years
A continuing services contract can’t extend beyond two years. But it can include a section on renewals. If it does, you can renew by consenting in writing within one month of the contract’s expiry date.
Be careful if they try to “automatically” renew your membership via ongoing credit card charges. Online companies with a subscription service (think: Amazon Prime, or Netflix) have contracts with automatic renewals. Bear in mind that since these companies have head offices outside of BC, and operate online, it can be difficult to enforce our laws against them.
You can cancel the contract during the cooling-off period
After receiving a copy of the contract, you have a 10-day cooling-off period to change your mind. You can back out for any reason during this time. The business must give you a full refund within 15 days.
Be careful with “free trials,” especially online. With these, you give your credit card info up front but aren’t billed until the trial period is over. The problem is, people are busy. We forget these dates. Business count on it! Studies show that almost half of all people who accept free trials forget to cancel before the auto payments kick in. Half! Don’t end up paying for something you won’t use.
You can cancel if there has been a material change in your circumstances
Even after the cooling-off period, you can still cancel one of these contracts if your circumstances have materially changed.
What might this look like? Maybe:
- you broke your leg, so you can’t do a downward dog (or any pose, really) for several months, or
- you moved to Vernon from Vancouver, and don’t intend to commute five hours every Tuesday evening to enjoy that painting class.
Tell them your reason for cancelling, and be prepared to provide proof (such as a doctor’s note, or a bill from your new address). You’re entitled to a prorated refund, and the business can charge you a reasonable admin fee to process the cancellation.
We’ve covered a material change in your circumstances. What if the business changes things?
Say the gym promises spin classes, but then cancels all of them. Or the yoga studio moves to Vernon, but you’re still living in Vancouver. In these circumstances, you can cancel and get a prorated refund.
Step 1. Do research
Being a good consumer is equal parts proaction and measured reaction. (Sorry, that sounded like rocket science. It’s not.) The key thing is — be prepared, and be firm.
Before you sign up for that great deal at the new fitness studio, read the fine print. Will the classes you’ve paid for in advance expire after a few months? Does the studio have a lot of negative online reviews?
Step 2. Be alert during trial periods
There’s plenty of competition out there. Businesses will try to woo you with extra perks and services, or give you a free trial.
Again, read the fine print. After the trial ends, are you already committed to a one-year term? After the first month, do you have to pay more to access (let's say) the lockers, hot tub, and sauna? If it is unclear, ask. Do. Your. Homework.
Step 3. Keep the contract
We’re increasingly paperless, but keeping contracts is important. Ask the business to email you a copy. Or take a phone photo of each page for future reference. That way, if things go wrong (or if the business can’t find a copy), you’ll have back-up.
Step 4. If you decide to cancel, be firm
If you want to cancel because of a material change in your circumstances, or if you’re still within the 10-day cooling off period, first call the business or go in-person.
Be firm, but polite. Explain why you’re cancelling. You may have to speak to a manager. Make sure you get confirmation in writing that they’ve accepted the cancellation and the amount they’re going to refund you (if you’ve pre-paid).
Step 5. Followup in writing
If the business continues to deny you a refund, write them a letter. Consumer Protection BC has a handful of handy templates: to cancel during the cooling-off period, due to a material change for you, or due to a material change for them.
Step 6. Wait 15 days
They have 15 days to give you a refund. If nothing happens by then, give them a call. Confirm they got your letter. Demand your refund.
If the business still refuses to comply, take to social media to voice your concerns. Be accurate. Be truthful. (If you are not truthful online, you may expose yourself to being sued.) You may end up getting what you want. Companies are eager to protect their reputations.
Who can help
Is the business still denying your rights? If you need help with that or other consumer-related issues, consider getting in touch with the following agencies.
- Consumer Protection BC
- Assists with some consumer problems and contracts. Includes online complaint form.
- Call 1-888-564-9963
- Start a complaint
- Visit website
- Better Business Bureau
- Receives complaints about local businesses that are members.
- Call 1-888-803-1222
- Visit website
- Competition Bureau
- Deals with complaints about false or misleading advertising.
- Call 1-800-348-5358
- Visit website
Affordable legal help does exist. (To be fair, two of these are options for help, and the third — the online tribunal — is a low-cost path to bringing a legal action.)
- Lawyer Referral Service
- Helps you connect with a lawyer for a complimentary 15-minute consult to see if you want to hire them.
- Call 1-800-663-1919
- Visit Website
- Access Pro Bono's Free Legal Advice
- Volunteer lawyers provide 30 minutes of free legal advice to people with low or modest income.
- Call 1-877-762-6664
- Visit Website
- Civil Resolution Tribunal
- Resolve disputes of less than $5,000 online 24/7 (no need for a lawyer!).
- Visit website
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