Tuesday, 08 November 2016 21:39

Talk of the Towns for November 9, 2016

Written by  Staff

A legal brief

Talkers usually have fun with our TOTs (the little ramblings we run each week in this “Talk Of the Towns” section of the Citizen) and we assume that regular readers and reasonably educated newcomers can comfortably comprehend the tongue-in-cheek nature of our tidbits when a subject arises that merits a tease.

Sometimes feathers get ruffled, but usually these amount to a few pages of fun dropped in between the news, sports, photos and announcements pertinent to folks in our community. But, alas, not everyone gets the gist.

Last week, Talkers took aim when the state’s attorney general released a list of establishments being investigated for potential Hurricane Matthew-related price gouging. A Budget — that’s right, “Budget” — Inn located in, well let’s see, a less than glamorous section of Gastonia was on the list and accused of charging up to $300 a night — $250, 600 percent and basically eight times more — than its usual rate of $40-$45, during the storm and the subsequent Down East flooding.

It seemed pretty clear in our office, where TOTs take on a team effort, that this could be a prime example of exactly the type of unsavory business practice the attorney general was out to identify and punish, and that a few written jabs were warranted.

But on our website, one reader took umbrage at our approach, challenging our criticism of what a hotel charged in the wake of a hurricane and asking us directly “What rates would you have charged in the same circumstances if you were in charge of the hotel?”

Well, the first, simple and only answer to that question is: a legal one.

Since the person who posed the question is apparently an attorney, it shouldn’t be necessary to explain that the attorney general’s actions were triggered by N.C. General Statute 75-38 — part of an enormous collection of state laws created by the General Assembly (a body consisting of elected representatives from throughout the state, just to complete the refresher course) — that prohibits excessive pricing in extraordinary circumstances such as the state of emergency that covered all of North Carolina’s 100 counties before, during and after Matthew.

The statute outlines parameters that make it a violation of G.S. 75-1.1, regulating unfair and deceptive business practices, for any person to sell or rent or offer to sell or rent vital goods or services during an emergency with the knowledge and intent to charge a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances. The definition of a price that would fall under the “gouging” guidelines is one higher than the seller’s average price in the 60 days prior to the event.

The item was based on that explanation, pondering if the inn in question could have possibly seen fit to charge $300 for one of its rooms before the storm and emphasizing the likelihood that, if it had, it probably didn’t have to switch out the laundry too often.

But the website poster went on to accuse Talkers of publishing the TOT as a way to, somehow, advocate for more extensive bureaucratic control of the economy. With health code expectations, professional standards (including, presumably, a state bar exam), assorted performance and service guidelines and specific product taxes (cigarettes, gasoline, etc.) in place, it seems like the habit of higher-level involvement in regulating day-to-day business practices is already pretty well established.

And the state stepping in deeper to keep lowlifes — like the convenience store operator who charged $27 for a case of bottled water, or the gas station owner who charged folks desperate to evacuate nearly $5 for a gallon of gas —from taking advantage of those already victimized by disaster seems like a darn good use of governmental authority.

And while we’ll absorb the complaints about our words, it doesn’t change the fact that the guilty deserve all the ridicule we can muster.

1 comment

  • Comment Link Eric Rowell Wednesday, 09 November 2016 15:39 posted by Eric Rowell

    Note to Citizen readers - if you're still trying to figure out why we now have President-elect Trump, look no further than the condescension dripping from the above column.

    Eric Rowell


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