While Hurricane Irene didn’t do as much damage to major cities like New York as forecasters had feared, some unlucky travelers found that the storm packed a hefty wallop to their wallets, thanks to some hotels that saw the storm as an opportunity to rake in some extra cash. The New York Daily News is reporting that the Hotel Le Bleu in Brooklyn jacked up their usual $250 rate to nearly $1,000. Stranded travelers may have felt like they had no other choice, but a Hotel Le Bleu employee who wouldn’t give her name was unsympathetic when contacted by the paper, telling them, “If you can pay, then it’s on you.”
Many states have laws that ban price gouging in the event of a disaster or after a state of emergency has been declared. Generally, price gouging is defined as a hike in rates of more than 10 to 25 percent, depending on the state. New York prohibits what the law defines as “unconscionably excessive price[s]” in the event of “any abnormal disruption of the market.”
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Sadly, the practice of hotels capitalizing on catastrophes isn’t unprecedented; some hotels ran into legal trouble for jacking up their rates after 9/11 when planes were grounded and travelers were stranded for days.
A Long Island hotel that raised its rates 185 percent in the wake of 9/11 was cited and required to pay $9,500 in restitution, fines and legal costs as a result. “No business should profit from tragedy,” then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said in an announcement back in December of that year.
These travelers might have the protection of the law behind them, says Alexander Anolik, a travelers’ rights lawyer. “Doubling the price or putting it up to the high rack rate nobody pays anyway, that they can certainly do,” he says. “If they tripled the price you’re starting to get there, anything over that is unconscionable.” Anolik adds that travelers who find themselves in a situation like this should investigate whether or not there is a state or local law prohibiting price gouging.
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Travelers who suspect they might have been subject to price gouging during Hurricane Irene should contact the state Attorney General’s office or the Consumer Affairs office of the county or state where the gouging took place.