Friday, February 16, 2018
Business

Hotels in Hillsborough and Pinellas accused of price gouging during Hurricane Matthew evacuations

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has filed three actions against hoteliers in the Tampa Bay area alleging price gouging during emergency evacuations related to Hurricane Matthew.

Bondi filed action against hotels in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties.

The first action was filed in Hillsborough County against an LLC behind a Days Inn in Tampa and business owner Jamil Kassam. According to the complaint, the Days Inn in Tampa raised room rates 70 to 300 percent as people from other parts of the state were fleeing to the Tampa Bay area for safety. Some guests were charged $150 more than the average nightly rate paid before Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, a news release stated.

A release from Bondi's office said the hotel also forced a number of existing guests, who reserved rooms and checked in before the evacuation days, to leave the property because they couldn't afford the increased rate. Bondi's office also filed a complaint in Pinellas County against Michael Goldstein and the LLC behind a Red Roof Inn in Clearwater related to price gouging. According to the complaint, the Red Roof Inn raised room rates for at least 27 guests by 80 to 200 percent, with some guests being charged $140 more than the average nightly rate before the state of emergency.

"As Hurricane Matthew strengthened into a dangerous Category 4 storm, more than a million Floridians and visitors were urged to evacuate," Bondi said in a statement. "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."

A Polk County Sleep Inn & Suites and owners Nilayam S. Patel, Suresh B. Patel and Kusum S. Patel were named in a third action for raising rates by 140 to 400 percent, charging some guests $200 more than the average nightly rate.

All three complaints seek civil penalties, disgorgement and restitution.

The alleged price gouging at Tampa Bay area hotels happened in October while Florida was under a state of emergency for two storms, Hurricane Hermine, which became the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, and Hurricane Matthew, which caused severe damage to Florida's north Atlantic Coast.

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