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Price gouging is illegal, and other Harvey updates


Richard M. Alderman Interim Dean of the Law Center

Q. I have heard that price gouging is illegal. Exactly how is price gouging defined and what are my remedies if I have been overcharged?
A. Price gouging is illegal, and may be prosecuted by the Texas Attorney General, or any individual who has been a victim. The Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act states it is a false, misleading or deceptive practice to take advantage of a disaster declared by the governor under Chapter 418, Government Code, by:
(A) selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price; or
(B) demanding an exorbitant or excessive price in connection with the sale or lease of fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity.
Because the governor has declared Harvey a disaster, any business or individual selling or demanding an exorbitant or excessive price for a necessity violates this law. This doesn’t mean a price may not rise due to increased costs, but it does mean a seller may not excessively raise a price simply because of a shortage or increased demand. For example, a business selling food that cost $10 before Harvey may raise the price to $12 if its costs go up by $2. It would be illegal, however, to raise the price to $20, simply because of increased demand and reduced supply.
If you feel you someone has charged or demanded an excessive or exorbitant price, you may file a complaint with the attorney general at http://txoag.force.com/CPDOnlineForm, or consider an individual claim under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in justice court. If you are successful in justice court you may receive up to three times your damages plus costs and attorney’s fees. Of course, the best first step is to talk with the seller and request a refund of any over-payment.
Hurricane Harvey Legal Hotline: Remember, if you have questions about your legal rights dealing with issues that have arisen as a result of Hurricane Harvey, the Center for Consumer Law at the University of Houston Law Center can assist you. The Center has established a legal line at 713-743-2168 for questions related to Harvey. Lawyers and law students at the Law Center answer the phones, however, due to heavy volume you may not get a person when you call. If that happens, please leave a message and you will receive a prompt call back.
Hurricane Harvey People’s Law School: And for those of you who want to be really informed about the law relating to the many issues arising from a natural disaster such as Harvey, The Center for Consumer Law will be holding a special “Harvey People’s Law School,” on Saturday, September 30th.
There will be classes in subjects such as insurance, consumer, and landlord tenant law, FEMA issues, employment and benefits law, and bankruptcy. There will even be a class explaining the best ways to find the law yourself. Each class will be taught by a law professor, judge or attorney and everyone may choose three classes to attend.
In addition to extensive materials, there will also be many volunteer lawyers to discuss your individual issues and questions.
The program is free but you must register at www.peopleslawyer.net. I look forward to seeing you at the end of the month.

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