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Gouging or supply and demand? Colorado Attorney General investigating Marshall Fire housing price complaints

In an already tight housing market, a thousand families found themselves homeless after the Marshall Fire. The AG's office is looking into price gouging complaints.

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — The Colorado attorney general has received a handful of complaints relating to price gouging after the Marshall Fire in Boulder County.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser told 9NEWS Tuesday the complaints relate to temporary housing both in hotel and housing settings.

“It’s important for people to know, you don’t do this,” Weiser said. “It’s the wrong thing to do. It’s illegal to do.”

Colorado lawmakers created price gouging protection laws in spring 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic drove up prices on everyday items because of panic buying. Though the law has been on the books for nearly two years, Weiser said his office has yet to take a case to court.

“If we do, we have to be able to show that a seller acted unreasonably at the time and there’s no justification for them hiking up the price by a substantial amount,” he said.

A quick search of Boulder County listings on the real estate website Zillow on Tuesday found a few rental properties that had raised their prices since the Marshall Fire. Weiser said its difficult to tell if the intent of the listings was to take advantage of fire survivors or to try to keep up with the pressures of supply and demand.

“We have to make these decisions on price gauging on a case by case basis. That means there’s not a hard and fast rule,” he said. “A critical differentiation we must make is between what I’ll call ordinary supply and demand versus opportunistic behavior – taking advantage of people at a moment in which they’re vulnerable.”

Weiser said anyone who believes they’ve been gouged should contact his office. Getting evidence of the gouging in writing is best. Any complaints can be submitted to StopFraudColorado.gov.

9NEWS has received a number of tips from viewers who believe they’re being taken advantage of following the fires. The companies involved blamed coincidence.

Ted Richardson, who lost the home his father had passed down to him on Cherrydale Road in Boulder, contacted 9NEWS after the security company ADT told him he would have to pay a cancellation fee to get out of his contract with the company. A statement provided by Richardson showed the fee of nearly $450 charged to him.

Through a spokesman, ADT said it handles customers situations on a case-by-case basis and offered to waive Richardson’s cancellation fee. The company also said it has donated $25,000 to the wildfire fund.

Another viewer, Kris Case, contacted 9NEWS after the apartment she’d been evacuated from during the fire sent her a lease renewal, raising her rent by $700. Case, who hasn’t been able to return to her apartment since the fire because of smoke damage, said the complex initially told her the amount was right.

The management company that runs her complex, Grand Peaks Properties, never responded to a 9News e-mail request for comment Monday about Case’s renewal, but the same day, Case said the company approached her and said an automation mistake led to the higher renewal rate. Case said her renewal rate was reduced to a $200 per month increase.

Are you a fire victim and feel you’ve been taken advantage of? Send story tips to steve@9news.com.

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