When weather disasters strike, like last week’s severe storms, they’re sometimes followed by big price hikes for items like plywood to cover windows or roofing materials. Bill Brauch, director of the Consumer Protection Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, says the state’s price-gouging rule aims to protect disaster victims in those situations. “We first adopted this rule in 1993 when we had major flooding across Iowa,” Brauch says.
The rule is now in effect for Pottawattamie County, home to Council Bluffs, and will remain in effect for six months. Governor Branstad declared that county a disaster area last week. Brauch says price-gouging isn’t just unethical, it’s illegal in Iowa under certain circumstances. “The whole idea here is that it’s an unfair practice and therefore unlawful to engage in price gouging,” Brauch says. “How we define that is charging a price that’s substantially higher than the price that the retailer — if it’s a retailer — or a wholesaler charged for the product or service immediately before the onset of the disaster.”
The list of items includes construction materials, generators, bottled water, food, lodging and medicine. Brauch says besides normal inflation, the rule stipulates that goods and services, like contractor fees, must remain at the same price prior to the disaster. “It covers services and products, so if it’s a roofer, if it’s renting a room in a hotel, they can’t jack up the price,” Brauch says. “That’s been an area of concern in the past when there’s tremendous demand for something.”
Last Tuesday night’s severe storms brought widespread damage to parts of southwest and south-central Iowa. Several communities endured wind gusts between 80 and 90 miles an hour along with heavy rain that brought flash flooding and large hail. Tornado sirens sounded but no twisters touched down.