Crestview Motel Settles Hurricane Price Gouging Complaints

A Crestview motel has settled a price gouging lawsuit filed by Attorney Gen. Charlie Crist after the business overcharged consumers for basic necessities during a declared state of emergency resulting from Hurricane Frances.

Budget Inns of Crestview, operator of the Crestview Days Inn Motel, has agreed to pay $10,000, including half of which will go to the Florida Hurricane Relief Fund. The motel will also pay restitution to victims who were charged in excess of the “Average Daily Rate” during hurricane evacuation.

The attorney general's office received initial complaints from consumers who contacted the office's price gouging hotline. According to one complaint, the Crestview Days Inn overcharged a Palmetto man who had evacuated his home seeking safe shelter from Hurricane Frances on September 3.

The motel charged the man $116.55 for one night even though rates averaged $40 to $50 during the month prior to the storm, a markup greater than 130 percent. Other faced similar overcharging. In one case, a clerk admitted the markup was due to the hurricane.

Under Florida's price gouging law, this increase constitutes a “gross disparity” between the two rates, subjecting the motel to price gouging action.

Victims of the Crestview Day’s Inn illegal billing practices associated with Hurricane Frances may file a claim with the attorney general's office for up to one year from the date of the settlement.

Wednesday’s action marks the attorney general’s fifth settlement of hurricane-related price gouging actions stemming from last year’s hurricane season.

Previously, motels in Vero Beach, West Palm Beach, Naples and Ocala agreed to reimburse guests and repay taxpayers for the costs of enforcing the price gouging statutes.