Tuesday, September 16, 2008

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Hurricane Consumer Alert: 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 and continuing through Oct. 14, 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 General’s 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 Security’s 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 General’s 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.