South Florida businesses pay back thousands after Irma price gouging investigations

(WSVN) - They’re the two words that can make frantic Floridians’ blood boil when a hurricane is on the way: price gouging. Now it’s payback time for some South Florida businesses.

When a storm threatens — and tensions rise — some businesses try to take advantage.

Pam Bondi, Florida Attorney General, on September 2017: “During a state of emergency, you cannot inflate prices and go after our Floridians, or I’m going to go after you.”

Warnings went out days before Hurricane Irma hit Florida.

Now, 10 months later, 7News has learned which South Florida businesses had to pay back customers after being investigated for price gouging.

Roberto Pineda, paid to park car: “They took advantage of the situation, definitely. That is the way I feel.”

Pineda complained after this parking garage near his Miami Beach condo raised their prices.

According to the Florida attorney general’s office, they jacked up the price to park a car from the normal $30 a day to $100 during Irma.

Now, the operators have to refund customers more than $6,500.

Brian Entin: “So it says $30 right there.”

Roberto Pineda: “Yes.”

Brian Entin: “But what did they charge you?”

Roberto Pineda: “One hundred dollars a day. A total of $300. That was the most expensive parking fees I have paid in my life.”

From garages — to hotels.

The state says the Miami Princess Hotel near the airport normally had room rates as low as $95 a night but raised some prices by as much as 138 percent after a state of emergency was declared.

Brian Entin: “My name is Brian Entin. I’m a reporter at 7News. We’re doing a story.”

Owner: “We’re not on camera now, are we?”

Brian Entin: “We are, we’re recording.”

Owner: “I don’t. I don’t. I refuse to be on camera.”

Brian Entin: “OK, we will turn it off.”

Owner: “I’ll talk to you but…”

After we turned off the camera, the man who identified himself as the owner told me he wasn’t aware of the price gouging law — and won’t let it happen again.

He had to pay back customers more than $17,000.

Prices went up after the storm as well.

The attorney general’s office says Miami Tool Rental substantially raised the price for chainsaws and generators.

Brian Entin: “I’m a reporter with 7News … is the owner or manager here?”

No one was available to talk, and no one called me back.

The business had to pay back $9,000 to customers.

Last stop — a gas station.

Brian Entin: “Are you the manager?”

Manager: “Uh huh.”

Brian Entin: “I’m doing a story about price gouging after Hurricane Irma.”

The manager of the Okeechobee Marathon gas station in Hialeah said she wasn’t aware of the state investigation that found the station raised the price of premium gas from $2.83 to $3.59 a gallon.

Brian Entin (to manager): “The owner paid a $3,000 penalty to the state.”

The attorney general’s office also says the gas station was selling filled, five-gallon gas tanks for $50.

They too had to pay customers back.

Brian Entin: “The attorney general’s office says they got more than 14,000 Irma-related price gouging complaints. The businesses we went to all settled — agreeing to pay more than $60,000 to customers and the state.”

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