Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed three actions Thursday against lodging businesses in the Tampa Bay area alleging price gouging while the area was under a state of emergency for Hurricane Matthew.
“As Hurricane Matthew strengthened into a dangerous category four storm, more than a million Floridians and visitors were urged to evacuate,” Bondi said. “Many of these people turned to these businesses for safe shelter but could not afford a room. During any emergency, it is extremely important that we come together as Floridians to ensure our citizens and visitors are safe. I personally visited one of these locations during the state of emergency and was disgusted by the way people seeking shelter were treated.”
The actions were filed against businesses in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties.
Bondi filed a complaint in Pinellas County against Shanti CC Clearwater, LLC, d/b/a Red Roof Inn Clearwater, Shanti CC Holding, Packard Hospitality Management, LLC, and Michael Goldstein for allegedly charging unconscionable and excessive prices during the state of emergency.
According to the complaint, Red Roof, located in Clearwater, raised room rates for at least 27 guests by 80 percent and up to 200 percent, with some guests being charged $140 more than the average nightly rate charged before the state of emergency.
In the Hillsborough case, Bondi alleges Mitch & Murray Hotels, Inc., d/b/a Days Inn/MPR LLC, a business located in Tampa, and owner Jamil Kassam engaged in unconscionable pricing practices during the state of emergency.
The complaint alleges this Days Inn raised room rates for at least 23 guests by a minimum of 70 percent and up to 300 percent, charging some guests $150 more than the average nightly rate charged before the state of emergency.
Additionally, the hotel allegedly forced several existing guests who reserved rooms and checked in before the evacuation days, to vacate because they could not afford the grossly increased nightly rate.
The Polk County complaint was filed against, SKAN, LLC, a Florida corporation doing business as Sleep Inn & Suites, and Nilayam S. Patel, Suresh B. Patel and Kusum S. Patel for allegedly charging unconscionable and excessive prices during the state of emergency. According to the complaint, Sleep Inn & Suites, located in Lakeland, raised room rates for at least 25 guests by 140 percent to more than 400 percent, charging some guests $200 more than the average nightly rate paid before the state of emergency.
At the time of the alleged price gouging, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties were under a state of emergency for two storm events, Hermine and Matthew.
All three of these complaints seek civil penalties, disgorgement, injunctive relief, restitution and other statutory relief against the defendants for violation of state laws.