Travis County looks into complaints of price gouging on water, lodging
Travis County Attorney Delia Garza said her office has received complaints about possible price gouging for water, eggs, towing services and lodging during last week's winter storm.
Garza told the American-Statesman the complaints have been forwarded to investigators in her office and that, if necessary, the office would pursue civil penalties.
"We are prioritizing educating people over filing lawsuits," Garza said. "We intend to reach out to folks and make sure they know what the law is."
That stance is similar to the messaging Garza used in campaigning for the job last year, when she spoke of wanting to help reform the criminal justice system by de-emphasizing incarceration and heavy fines.
The price gouging complaints followed an order last Tuesday from Travis County Judge Andy Brown prohibiting businesses from demanding, selling or leasing goods or services at exorbitant or excessive prices. Brown also ordered businesses to minimize electricity use for nonessential operations.
Garza said her office received five voice messages and 16 emails, including 11 for water violation complaints tied to a Saturday order from Brown prohibiting car washing services.
Garza's office created an online consumer protection resource with steps to report price gouging. It suggested that before filing a complaint consumers should "respectfully raise the issue with the business" and take photographs and hold on to receipts. If the matter could not be resolved, Garza's office provided steps for filing a complaint.
Civil penalties for price gouging can reach up to $10,000 per violation, or $250,000 if the consumer was at least 65 years old when the act occurred.
Garza said she did not know the specific businesses named in the complaints because she had received only a general briefing about them. The American-Statesman filed a public records request with the county attorney's office for those names Monday.
The city of Austin said its 311 service received 140 complaints submitted between Wednesday and Monday with the key words "car wash" and or "vehicle wash."
Car washes have been prohibited, with a $250 fine, since the city issued a boil water notice Wednesday.