A contract is a written or spoken agreement between two or more parties, intended to be enforceable by law. Contract law is a very complex topic and can be confusing to both consumers and businesses alike.
Always read over a contract carefully and do not agree to it unless you are confident that you understand it completely. When possible, have your lawyer or another trusted person review anything that you intend to sign.
Generally, a contract is binding when the following is true:
- the parties intend to make a contract;
- there is an offer and an acceptance; and
- the parties receive something (e.g. the company receives money and you receive a service) in return for their promises.
In some provinces and territories, there is an automatic cancellation (cooling-off) period for contracts for items or services such as credit, dating clubs, health clubs, funeral and cemetery services, time-shares, natural gas, electricity and door-to-door sales, whether the company tells you about it or not. The cooling-off period, which varies by product and province or territory, is defined as a specific period of time in which you may reconsider your decision and cancel the contract, for any reason you like. Remember this applies only to certain kinds of contracts.
Contact your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office to find out more about the cooling-off period, whether it applies in your province or territory, how many days it encompasses and to what products and services it applies.
Unless the contract is subject to an automatic cooling-off period, remember that it might be difficult or impossible to cancel: don’t sign unless you are positive you want the product or service.
When you are considering joining a health club, be cautious about the following:
- Joining clubs that have not opened: they might never open.
- Low-cost “bait” advertisements: many “switch” you to expensive long-term contracts.
- Promises that you may cancel any time and stop paying: check the written contract for the terms of membership and any other promises.
- The fine print: the advertisements and contracts for many low-cost offers severely restrict hours of use and services.
- Signing long-term contracts: many consumers quit using the club within a few months.
- Unbelievably low one-time fees with no monthly dues.
Before you sign, be sure to do the following:
- Check with your doctor (you should do this before you begin any exercise program).
- Visit the club at the hours you will be using it.
- Check that promised equipment and services are actually available.
- Talk to current members about their satisfaction with the club.
- Check out several clubs.
- Consider your commitment to a long-term program: good intentions seem to fade as the reality of the hard work sets in.
- Read the contract carefully to find out whether you will be charged interest for a payment plan and whether all of the salesperson’s verbal promises are in writing.
- Check with your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office for any cooling-off periods or other rights that apply where you live.
- Overvalued or misrepresented prizes and awards are sometimes used to promote time-shares and campgrounds. Free awards might “bait” you into driving a long distance to the property, but offering, once you get there, only a long, high-pressure sales pitch to obtain your prize.
- Be realistic. Make your decision based on how much you will use the property and whether it provides the recreational and vacation opportunities you want. Don’t decide to purchase based only on an investment possibility. The property might be difficult to resell.
- Ask about additional costs, such as finance charges, annual fees and maintenance fees. Maintenance fees can go up yearly.
- Compare your total annual cost of the time-share with your normal vacation expenses.
- Ask about availability during your vacation periods. Ask what other timeshares or campgrounds you may use with your membership.
- Talk to individuals who have already purchased from the company about services, availability, upkeep and reciprocal rights to use other facilities.
- Get everything in writing and make sure verbal promises are in the written contract. Have an independent attorney review any contracts and documents, and make sure there are no blanks on papers you sign.
- Ensure that cancellation rights and the cooling-off period are spelled out in the contract before you sign.
- Check with the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the company, seller, developer or management company.
- Check that the property complies with local and provincial or territorial laws regarding features such as smoke detectors, exits and fire proofing.
Provincial and Territorial Consumer Affairs Offices
Service Alberta, Consumer Contact Centre
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4L4
Consumer Protection BC
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 9J2
Consumer Protection Office, Manitoba Justice
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0B6
Financial and Consumer Services Commission
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 1E1
Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador A1B 4J6
Consumer Affairs, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2L9
Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Public Enquiries
1505 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3K5
Consumer Affairs, Department of Community and Government Services
Baker Lake, Nunavut X0C 0A0
Consumer Protection Ontario, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Toronto, Ontario M3M 1J8
Prince Edward Island
Consumer Services, Department of Justice and Public Safety
PO Box 2000
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island C1A 7N8
Office de la protection du consommateur
Québec, Quebec G1K 8W4