In 2016, during Hurricane Matthew’s destructive path through Florida, Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency. That meant more than 1.5 million coastal residents were required to evacuate, with many seeking refuge in motels. But, as is often the case in disasters, some of these motels decided to profit from others’ misfortune by raising their rates to illegal levels. Their actions were reported to a hotline set up by the attorney general of Florida to report instances of price gouging for essentials such as food, gas, water, and hotels. And now some of those motels are being sued by the state’s attorney general.
Florida’s statute section 501.160 considers it “unconscionable” for the price of a hotel/motel room rental to be higher during a state of emergency. Florida law considers it a “gross disparity” if the price charged for a hotel room during an emergency is more than the average price that is in effect during the 30 days prior to the state of emergency. This is considered a deceptive and unfair act on the part of the merchants. After Hurricane Matthew subsided, the Florida attorney general’s office brought lawsuits against three motel owners alleging a violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA).
At least 23 guests staying at the Days Inn in Tampa during Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 had been charged between $89 and $209 per night. Those rates were between 72 percent and 303 percent higher than the hotel’s average going rate of $50 over the previous two months. When Hurricane Matthew was over, the Days Inn reduced its prices to its pre-hurricane levels.
A suit was also brought against the Red Roof Inn in Clearwater. The complaint alleged that its room-rental rates had been raised by 89 percent to 238 percent during the state of emergency.
A third lawsuit was filed against the Sleep Inn & Suites in Lakeland. The complaint alleged that the motel’s rates had been unconscionably raised during the state of emergency. At least 25 guests were reportedly charged between $124 and $264 per night during the evacuation period, which amounted to increases of 143 percent to 417 in rates that existed before the hurricane hit.
The lawsuits alleged a willful intent to engage in price gouging and sought to impose civil penalties, disgorge profits, obtain restitution, and to pay for the legal fees of the plaintiffs. The suits also demanded refunds to motel guests overcharged during the state of emergency.
Frank Charles Miranda, P.A. offers both knowledge and experience in handling cases involving violations of the FDUTPA. Call us at 813-254-2637 or contact us online if you think your consumer rights have been violated.