FLORIDA KEYS, March 14, 2020 – Before, during and after a governor-declared State of Emergency in Florida, people with bad intentions sometimes take advantage of the situation and raise the price of goods or services to what state law calls an “unconscionable” degree. That’s a crime.
On March 9, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a statewide State of Emergency due to the COVID-19 virus epidemic. The declaration triggered many emergency measures, including Florida’s anti-price-gouging law. As of this writing, there have been no diagnosed cases of COVID-19, also called the coronavirus, in Monroe County.
Florida Statute 501.160 was enacted by the Florida Legislature following the strike of Hurricane Andrew on South Florida in 1992 to guard against profiteering from consumers before, during, and after a declared State of Emergency. So what exactly is price gouging? The law says the following are covered:
Any goods, services, materials, merchandise, supplies, equipment, resources or other articles of commerce for consumption or use as a direct result of the emergency. For example, for COVID-19, that would include hand sanitizer and other hygiene products, and household cleaning supplies.
The applicable terms for price gouging are “gross disparity” in prices pre-emergency and post-emergency and that a price “grossly exceeds” what it was pre-emergency. “Prima facie evidence” under the law is defined as:
The 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 by a merchant.
According to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, “Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties of $1,000 per violation and up to a total of $25,000 for multiple violations committed in a single 24-hour period. In addition to the civil penalties for price gouging, state law criminalizes the sale of goods and services to the public without possession of an occupational license. Violators of the law can be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor.”
There are a few exemptions to the anti-gouging law, which says “a price increase approved by an appropriate government agency shall not be a violation of this section” and that it “shall not apply to sales by growers, producers, or processors of raw or processed food products, except for retail sales of such products to the ultimate consumer within the area of the declared state of emergency.”
If you feel you’ve become a victim of price gouging, do the following:
Call your respective Monroe County State Attorney’s Office: Key West, 305-292-3400; Middle Keys, 305-289-2593; or Upper Keys, 305-852-7170.
Report as much information about the transaction as you can: Bills, invoices, receipts. Include the commodity’s brand, item number, maker, name, quantity, size, unit price.
You can call the Florida Attorney General’s Office gouging hotline at 866-966-7226. You can also report violations online at the My Florida Legal website or by mail to Office of the Attorney General, PL-01, Tallahassee, FL 32399-1050. Remember to include your name, the name of the company or individual, and a complaint number, if you received one.