New York Attorney General Letitia James today issued a consumer alert, warning both consumers and businesses to be on alert for potential price gouging of essential items and services both during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Henri.
“New Yorkers should be on the lookout for fraudsters who use natural disasters to take advantage of consumers,” said Attorney General James. “It is illegal for retailers or vendors to charge grossly excessive prices for essential goods and services during a state of emergency, and that includes those who try to exploit New Yorkers in the aftermath of Hurricane Henri. I urge anyone who believes they may have been a victim of price gouging to contact my office immediately.”
New York state’s price gouging law (General Business Law §396-r) prohibits merchants from taking unfair advantage of consumers by selling goods or services for an “unconscionably excessive” price during an “abnormal disruption of the market” or a declared state of emergency. An excessive price would be represented by a gross disparity between the price of the product immediately prior to and after such an occurrence.
The price gouging law covers New York state vendors, retailers, and suppliers, and includes essential goods and services that are vital and necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers or the general public, such as food, water, gasoline, generators, batteries, flashlights, hotel lodging, and transportation services. Contract services for storm-related damage, both during and after a natural disaster, are covered by the state’s price gouging law as well.
On August 22, the federal government issued a federal disaster declaration for 26 counties in New York, including: Albany, Bronx, Broome, Chenango, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Kings, Montgomery, Nassau, New York, Orange, Otsego, Putnam, Queens, Rensselaer, Richmond, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Suffolk, Sullivan, Ulster, and Westchester Counties.
Consumers should protect themselves when hiring contractors to perform storm-related services by considering the following tips:
- Shop around – Get at least three estimates from reputable contractors that include specific information about the materials and services to be provided for the job.
- Get it in writing – Insist on a written contract that includes the price and description of the work needed.
- Don’t pay unreasonable advance sums – Negotiate a payment schedule tied to the completion of specific stages of the job. Never pay the full price up front.
- Get references – Check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers, and neighbors. Always contact references provided to you.
- Know your rights – You have three days to cancel after signing a contract for home improvements. All cancellations must be in writing.