On Sunday night, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi activated Florida’s price gouging hotline for consumers in the Panhandle and Big Bend. The opening of the hotline comes as Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 26 counties in the projected path of Tropical Storm Michael. The storm is expected to strengthen before possibly making landfall Wednesday in Florida’s Panhandle. Florida’s price gouging law applies to sales within counties covered by the declared state of emergency.
State law prohibits extreme increases in the price of essential commodities, such as food, water, hotels, ice, gasoline, lumber and equipment, needed as a direct result of an officially declared emergency. Anyone who suspects price gouging during this declared state of emergency should report it to the Florida Attorney General’s Office by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.
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.
Specifically, Florida Statute 501.160 states that during a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell, lease, offer to sell, or offer for lease essential commodities, dwelling units, or self-storage facilities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency, unless the seller can justify the price by showing increases in its costs or based on market trends.
Counties under the declared state of emergency include: Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Holmes, Washington, Bay, Jackson, Calhoun, Gulf, Gadsden, Liberty, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla, Jefferson, Madison, Taylor, Hamilton, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Columbia, Gilchrist, Levy and Citrus.