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You have three days to cancel a health club contract

Feb. 4, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 3, 2012 at 8:04 p.m.


I went to a local health club on Friday and signed up for a membership. While I was there, I spoke with a trainer about using his services. He told me how much he charged and that I could let him know Tuesday if I wanted to hire him. I went back to the club on Tuesday to cancel my contract and tell the trainer I didn't want to use him. They told me I was out of luck and that I was bound by the contract I signed. Help!

Contrary to what many people believe, in most cases, you do not have three days to change your mind when you sign a contract. There are, however, some contracts that the State of Texas recognizes people often sign on impulse, and quickly change their mind. A health club agreement is one such contract. Under Texas law, all health club contracts must give you three business days to change your mind, and must include the following notice:

If you decide you do not wish to remain a member of this health spa, you may cancel this contract by mailing to the health spa by midnight of the third business day after the day you sign this contract a notice stating your desire to cancel this contract. The written notice must be mailed by certified mail to the health spa's home office.

If they did not give you this notice, they violate the law, and you may still cancel. If they gave you this notice, and then tell you that you cannot cancel, they are also violating the law. I should point out that even if the trainer's agreement were a separate contract, you still would not be bound. He expressly represented you had until Tuesday to let him know, and trying to change that representation probably violates our Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

In my opinion, the bottom line is you should be able to cancel the health club contract, and have no contract to the trainer. I suggest you let everyone know you know about the Health Spa Act and the Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and that you expect they will agree that you have no further liability. To see copies of these law, visit my website, www.peopleslawyer.net.

I have a question. My grown daughter recently passed away. She had just graduated and didn't own much of anything. Can the companies she owed money to force me to pay? I have been receiving calls telling me I owe the money.

Probably not. You are responsible for your daughter's debts only if you agreed to pay them. For example, if you co-signed with her. In all other cases, the company must collect from her estate. If there is not enough money to pay the bills, they do not get paid. If they continue to call, let them know they can file a claim against her estate, or, if she had no assets that she was insolvent at the time of her death.

My ex-roommate agreed to pay half the utility bills, even though the bill was in my name. At first, she paid every month, then she stopped. I do not have anything in writing. Can I still go to small claims court?

You can go to small claims court and there is no need for a written agreement. Most agreements, including the one between you and your ex-roommate, do not need to be in writing to be legally enforceable. If you can prove she promised to pay half the bill, you can recover in small claims court. If you have proof she paid for in other month's, that is a pretty good indication that you had an agreement.

I should point out that before going to small claims court, you should try to resolve the matter. You may want to send her a certified letter explaining your position, suggesting that settling things will be much less expensive and time consuming than small claims court.

Richard Alderman, a consumer advocate popularly known as "the People's Lawyer," is a professor at the University of Houston Law School in Houston. His column appears weekly in the Victoria Advocate. Write to him at UH Law Center, Houston, Texas 77204-6391. He also maintains a Web page at www.peopleslawyer.net.

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