Unfortunately, many Florida purveyors of essential goods and services, such as food, water, shelter, gasoline, and other consumer staples and emergency supplies, have been caught price gouging before and during Hurricane Matthew, with a gas station charging $9.99 per gallon and rooms at a Days Inn costing $200 per night. These outrageous prices are charged not by entrepreneurs from other states trucking in urgently needed supplies bur by local businesses charging inflated prices and reaping windfall profits without increasing supply.
Florida law states that:
a price is unconscionable if [t]he amount charged grossly exceeds the average price at which the same or similar commodity was readily obtainable in the trade area during the 30 days immediately prior to a declaration of a state of emergency, unless the increase in the amount charged is attributable to additional costs incurred in connection with the rental or sale of the commodity or rental or lease of any dwelling unit or self-storage facility, or regional, national, or international market trends.
Rental or Sale of Essential Commodities During a Declared State of Emergency, Prohibition Against Unconscionable Prices, Florida Statute Chapter 501.160(b)(2). Unfortunately, 501.160(7) eliminates a private right of action under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, leaving consumers to the vagaries of government enforcement.
According to the Attorney General, residents who feel they have been gouged are urged to call the Florida Attorney General or their local State Attorney’s office. More information is available at Price Gouging Frequently Asked Questions. Residents should keep photographs of advertised prices, pay by credit card, and keep any receipts of payments in order to pursue legal action. The Florida Attorney General is available to prosecute offenders, but due to limited capacity, the Legislature should consider a bill removing the bar on private actions.
For an alternate perspective, see Harvard Business Review Article Proposing Sales Tax Abatement During Emergencies.