Price Gouging Laws Triggered in Affected Areas to Protect Consumers
New York State Division of Consumer Protection to Help Complaint Filing
Governor Kathy Hochul today warned New Yorkers to be aware of potential price increases for items in the aftermath of extreme weather events in the Mid-Hudson Region and the Canandaigua area of Ontario County. On July 10, 2023, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency for multiple counties as heavy rainfall resulted in significant flooding, numerous road closures and other storm-related impacts. The declaration of a state of emergency triggered New York State price gouging laws, which prohibit selling goods or services to consumers in an affected area for an unconscionably excessive price.
"It is unconscionable for retailers to inflate prices as New Yorkers reel from the devastating impacts of the severe weather events across the state," Governor Hochul said. "As communities continue to recover from extreme flooding, I urge all New Yorkers to remain vigilant and aware of potential scammers. We will continue to do everything in our power to hold accountable bad actors who seek to take advantage of consumers in their time of need."
New York State Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said, "Heavy rainfall and severe flooding have taken a tremendous toll on communities across New York State. As New Yorkers in these impacted areas begin to recover from the effects of extreme weather events, it's important to be on the lookout for any business charging grossly or unconscionably excessive prices for goods and services and to report them immediately."
A merchant may be "price gouging" when, during an abnormal disruption of the market for goods and services that are vital and necessary for the health, safety and welfare of consumers or the general public, the merchant substantially raises prices - charging an "unconscionably excessive price" - in an area covered by the Governor's State of Emergency declaration.
A merchant may not charge "unconscionably excessive prices" in the affected area for:
- Goods or services used primarily for personal, family or household purposes;
- Essential medical supplies and services used for the care, cure mitigation, treatment or prevention of any illness or disease; or
- Any other essential goods and services used to promote the health or welfare of the public.
An abnormal disruption of the market is an actual or imminently threatened change in the market resulting from any one of several legally recognized events, including stress of weather, convulsion of nature, failure or shortage of electric power or other source of energy, or other cause of an abnormal disruption of the market which results in a declaration of a state of emergency by the Governor.
Generally, an "unconscionably excessive price" may be found by a court when:
- There is a gross disparity between the price being charged by the seller during the abnormal disruption of the market and the price charged immediately prior to the onset of the extreme weather event by that same seller; or
- The price being charged during the extreme weather event by one seller grossly exceeds the price for the same or similar goods and services readily obtainable in the affected area by other consumers.
Consumer Response to Price Gouging
Any New Yorker who sees excessively priced consumer goods and services that are used primarily for personal, family or household purposes to prevent or respond to the severe weather events should file a complaint with the New York State Division of Consumer Protection (DCP) by calling the DCP Consumer Helpline at 800-697-1220 or visiting the DCP website at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection. Complaints can be filed against vendors, retailers and suppliers doing business in New York State.
When reporting, be prepared to provide details of the alleged price gouging to include the location of the merchant and any available proof of the excessive price(s), such as receipts or pictures.
The DCP Consumer Assistance Unit will review the complaint and, if appropriate, engage in voluntary mediation on behalf of the consumer or refer the complaint to the Office of the Attorney General to initiate an enforcement action. In either instance, the Consumer Assistance Unit will keep the consumer informed of all actions taken on their behalf. More information about price gouging during weather events is available here.
About the New York State Division of Consumer Protection
The New York State Division of Consumer Protection provides resources and education materials to consumers on product safety, as well as voluntary mediation services between consumers and businesses. The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4:30pm, excluding State Holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumer-protection.
For more consumer protection tips, follow the Division on social media at Twitter: @NYSConsumer and Facebook: www.facebook.com/nysconsumer.
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