The Maryland attorney general's office yesterday ordered four suburban Maryland health clubs to stop selling memberships until they comply with new consumer protection laws.
The "cease and desist" orders said the clubs--Club Nautilus of White Flint in Bethesda and Fun and Fitness Centers in Temple Hills, Forestville and Camp Springs--failed to register with the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office as required by a law that went into effect July 1.
The four clubs will be required to show cause at an Oct. 10 hearing why they should not be barred permanently from selling memberships. The notices sent to the clubs yesterday were the first step in what the attorney general's office said is a crackdown against clubs that have not complied with the new law.
The law was proposed by state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell (D-Baltimore County), after several spas in Baltimore and Montgomery counties went out of business after taking large advance payments from customers. In addition to requiring the state's 132 health spas to register with the attorney general's office, spas that collect more than three months payment in advance must post a $50,000 bond with the state to protect those customers.
According to Peter Berns, a lawyer in the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office, all health spas in the state were sent notice of the new law and registration forms on June 18. Since then, according to Berns, 13 have fully registered; 59 have applications in the office being processed, and 60 have taken no action.
"These four clubs gave evidence of being aware of the new law and were issued warning letters from this office in August," Berns said. "Another 45 clubs will be issued warning letters in the next two days. If they do not take action in the next two weeks, they will be given cease and desist orders also."
Bruce Hall, director of operations for the nine Fun and Fitness Centers in the Washington area, said yesterday that the bond had not been posted by his company because of "paper problems" caused by the sale one year ago of the company to Beachwood (Ohio) Spas International.
"If the deadline is Oct. 10, we will comply by Oct. 10," Hall said. "All we have to do is get underwritten by our insurance company and we've had trouble getting the old management's records straight. We've operated 11 years here; we aren't about to go out of business; we will comply with the law."
"But," he added, "the $50,000 is a ridiculous figure. If these legislators were really trying to protect people, they would make it $500,000. What's $50,000 divided up among 3,000 members--nothing. The new law does nothing in reality. It's just legislators trying to look like heroes."
A spokeswoman for Club Nautilus in Philadelphia said the company will issue a statement next week.