(MONTGOMERY)—With a State of Emergency declared for parts of Alabama, Attorney General Troy King said that price gouging provisions are now in effect for the following counties: Baldwin, Clarke, Covington, Coffee, Crenshaw, Dale, Elmore, Geneva, Houston, Henry and Washington.
He promised to vigorously enforce the law to protect citizens who are suffering damage from storms and flooding.
The Attorney General also vowed to enforce state laws against home repair fraud, and to protect Alabamians who have suffered from the severe weather, to prevent unscrupulous people from taking advantage of the situation to inflict further damage.
“This is the kind of hardship that brings us together, as neighbors help neighbors and the people of Alabama stand together,” said Attorney General King.
“There are unfortunately also those among us who would further victimize their fellow citizens. Let me be perfectly clear: I will not tolerate those who would seek to profit illegally at the expense of Alabamians who have been harmed. Where there is evidence of such crimes, my office will investigate and take appropriate action to prosecute.”
The state law that prohibits “unconscionable pricing” of items for sale or rent comes into play when the Governor has declared an official state of emergency.
Although what constitutes an unconscionable price is not specifically set forth in state law, a price that is 25 percent or more than the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days--unless the increase can be attributed to a reasonable cost-- is a prima facie case of unconscionable pricing.
The penalty is a fine of up to $1,000 per violation, and those determined to have willfully and continuously violated this law may be prohibited from doing business in Alabama.
As Alabamians begin to rebuild, home repair fraud becomes a real, persistent, and serious problem.
A first offense of home repair fraud is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year imprisonment and fines of up to $6,000 for each count.
Subsequent offenses are a class C felony, punishable by one to 10 years imprisonment and fines of up to $15,000 for each count.
Attorney General King cautions consumers to be wary and to take the following precautions when hiring someone to make repairs:
Ø Find out as much as you can about the workers, especially if they make unsolicited contact with you or have come from out-of-town after a natural disaster.
Ø Ask for proof that they are bonded or insured.
Ø Ask to see their license. Contractors who perform work costing more than $10,000 are required to have a contractor’s license. You may check through the Alabama Home Builder’s Licensure Board to see if a contractor is licensed, by calling 1-800-304-0853. Consumers should also check with their local government because those contractors performing work costing less than $10,000 are probably required to have a city or county business license, depending on the area in which you live.
Ø Ask if this particular job requires a permit. Most construction and home repairs of major significance require a permit from the county or city. Do not let them talk you into applying for the permit in your name. If they do not want to be known to local officials, they may be hiding a bad reputation.
Ø Get a written estimate detailing the work to be done and setting a completion date.
Ø Ask for references. Get names and addresses, and consider checking examples of work they have done.
Ø Do not pay too much up-front. You should pay only a minimal amount, perhaps as much as one-fourth, to indicate good faith and ability to pay. If they tell you more money is needed in advance, be wary. They should be able to pay for supplies or have credit to make necessary purchases until you compensate them afterward.
Ø Make sure you can contact them. Be wary if they can only give you a pager number, a cell phone number, or a post office box address. Businesses with established addresses may be safer.
Attorney General King urges consumers and officials to report any problems of alleged fraud or illegal price gouging to his Office of Consumer Affairs by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658, by writing to 500 Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama 36130, or though the Attorney General’s main web page at www.ago.alabama.gov.