Attorney General warns against price gouging after declaration of emergency in 12 NY counties

Attorney General Letitia James

Heavy rain and high winds during Halloween storm caused widespread flooding

New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a consumer alert, warning consumers and businesses to be on alert for potential pricing gouging in the aftermath of a storm that impacted parts of Upstate New York on Halloween. The following day, Nov. 1, 2019, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo declared a state of emergency in 12 Upstate counties that experienced widespread power outages and road closures after a storm featuring heavy rain and high winds.

“New Yorkers should remain wary of dishonest fraudsters who use natural disasters as an excuse to illegally line their pockets,” said James. “We will hold accountable those who seek to exploit times of emergency. I urge anyone who believes they may have been a victim of price gouging to contact my office immediately, so we can hold these swindlers accountable.”

“We have absolutely zero tolerance for anyone who preys on New York homeowners and small businesses, especially in the wake of weather-related emergencies, like last week’s extreme flooding,” Cuomo said. ​“I am urging all New Yorkers to be on the alert for contractors who may be charging unfair prices for storm-related repairs and to immediately report these bad actors to the state.”

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. This 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 — 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 November 1, Governor Cuomo declared a state of emergency in Cayuga, Chautauqua, Cortland, Dutchess, Erie, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Oneida, Saratoga, and Warren 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.

The Office of the New York State Attorney General urges any New Yorker who believes they have been the victim of price gouging to call 800-771-7755 or visit the office website to file a complaint.

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