Evacuees Should Know Their Rights When Staying At Hotels
While some Hurricane Ike evacuees headed to evacuation shelters, others sought safe refuge in hotels and motels across Texas. Evacuees who are staying in hotels and motel rooms need to know their rights and their responsibilities.|
Beginning Sept. 8 for a period of 14 days, Gov. Rick Perry has suspended the collection of state and local hotel and motel taxes for victims of Hurricane Ike. Consumers who are charged these taxes in affected areas should inform the hotel or motel that they are evacuees and ask that the fees be removed from their bill. If the charges are not removed, customers should save their receipts and file a complaint with the Office of the Attorney Generalís Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011.
Texans who decide to stay at hotels and motels also should be aware that it is their responsibility to seek accommodations and make reservations. Under state law, hoteliers are not obligated to let evacuees stay at their facilities if there are no rooms available after their reservations expire.
Financial assistance is available for hurricane evacuees who cannot afford extended stays at hotels or motels through the U.S. Department of Homeland Securityís Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The amount of financial assistance available varies according to the city where the lodging is located. Evacuees seeking FEMA assistance should apply online at www.fema.gov or by calling (800) 621-3362.
Texans should keep written records and receipts of any transaction they believe violates the special protections afforded them during a declared disaster. If speaking directly with the service provider does not resolve the dispute, Texans should call the Office of the Attorney Generalís toll-free Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011. Hotline staff is available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. If Internet service is available, consumers may file a written complaint online at www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.
A disaster declaration triggers heightened enforcement authority for the Office of the Attorney General under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. This authority protects Texans by prohibiting exorbitant prices for necessities, such as drinking water, food, batteries and generators.
ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.
Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.