Fla. AG Settles Hurricane Price Gouging Case with Motel

February 14, 2005

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist announced a settlement agreement with 5 Star Investments Inc., a motel that was the subject of hurricane-related price gouging complaints.

Under the Assurance of Voluntary Compliance, the Vero Beach motel will pay $75,000 for victim restitution and legal fees, the highest settlement of a motel price gouging case following last year’s record-breaking hurricane season.

The Attorney General’s Office received initial complaints of price gouging from consumers who contacted the office’s price gouging hotline, and additional complaint information was received after the Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Unit launched an investigation into the allegations.

The motel, a Best Western franchise, is located at 8797 20th Street in Vero Beach. Investigators reportedly found that during the six-week period following Hurricane Frances, the average daily rate for rooms at the motel increased approximately 41 percent from a rate calculated during the 30-day period preceding the storm. Under Florida’s price gouging law, this increase constitutes a “gross disparity” between the two rates, subjecting the motel to price gouging action.

Victims may file a claim with the Attorney General’s Office within 60 days. Most of the restitution payment will be placed in an escrow account for victims’ claims.

After the 60-day period has elapsed, any remaining funds will be equally distributed between the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund and the Attorney General’s Office for legal costs.

This action marks the fourth settlement of hurricane-related price gouging actions. Previously, hotels in West Palm Beach, Naples and Ocala agreed to reimburse guests and repay taxpayers for the costs of enforcing the price gouging statutes.

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