Unfortunately, many people look at the potential misfortune others face as an opportunity to “loot” others’ possession, raise
prices, and commit other crimes. Given the harsh hurricane season and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, those in the Houston areas and all across Florida may become the victims of looters and price gouging in addition to the other issues they face following the devastation often left behind.
Following Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, officials were not going to make it easy for those who were considering breaking into homes or businesses for the purpose of stealing. Lawmakers vowed zero tolerance for looters, and according to news reports arrested 14 individuals. Other reports claimed that following the hurricane, nearly 100 firearms were stolen from stores in the area.
According to the Houston Chronicle, a warning was posted by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office that those caught victimizing residents in the area would be arrested and face mandatory jail time. Kim Ogg, Harris County District Attorney, warned that under state law, burglarizing a residence in a disaster area could potentially result in a life prison sentence.
Once example of the looting going on in Florida occurred in Fort Lauderdale, where a group of nine individuals including three teenagers and six adults broke into Cash America Pawn and Foot Locker after being captured on camera looting outside a local sporting goods store. Those in the group were arrested for burglary during a natural disaster. In Florida, when the Governor declares a state of emergency as is often the case during a natural disaster, anyone who commits burglary may be charged with a first-degree felony. In a situation where a home becomes uninhabitable due to a hurricane or other emergency, a person may still be charged with burglary of a dwelling because the state’s law provides a natural disaster exception. The penalties for those convicted of burglary of a dwelling in Florida include a maximum prison term of 15 years.
Most people don’t realize the serious consequences looters or those who commit burglary during a natural disaster face. The punishment is severe, and perhaps rightly so given that during this situation law enforcement and other officials are focused on protecting the community – which gives looters and burglars a better opportunity to take property from homes or businesses that doesn’t belong to them.
Price gouging is another result of natural disasters such as hurricanes. According to various news reports, there have already been more than 8,000 complaints of price gouging and scams in Florida, including allegations of price gouging by airlines. In Texas, as of August 30th, there had been more than 500 complaints of price gouging including triples or quadrupled rates at hotels, enormous increases in gas (up to $10 per gallon), and $99 for a case of bottled water. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said there are substantial penalties for price gouging, and that the fine per occurrence is $20,000.
Hopefully, Harvey and Irma will be the worst of the hurricane season, and innocent home and business owners won’t become the victims of looters or businesses who engage in price gouging for their own profit, despite the hardship facing those victims impacted the hardest by these storms.