The owner of the Comfort Inn in Roseburg has agreed to pay a $30,000 fine for overcharging people as they fled the Archie Creek Fire last year.
The owner of the hotel, Teja Lodgings, LLC, will also refund money to people who were overcharged, according to the agreement, known as an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance.
The agreement between Teja Lodgings and the Oregon Department of Justice was filed in Douglas County Circuit Court on Aug. 31. Teja Lodgings owns the Comfort Inn, which is located at 1539 NW Mulholland Drive.
The agreement is signed by Sarabjeet Teja, of Camas, Washington, who is listed in state paperwork as the owner of the hotel. Under the terms of the agreement, Teja Lodgings does not admit or concede to any violation of law, rule or regulation, and “expressly denies any violation” of Oregon law.
Neither Teja or his attorney returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.
The initial tip on the overcharging came from someone who had stayed at the hotel, said Kristina Edmunson, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Justice.
“We initially received a complaint through our price gouging hotline on Sept. 11, 2020,” Edmunson said. “The complainant stated that the hotel quoted him a price of $209 for a two-night stay when reserving the room over the phone but, after staying two nights, he learned that he was charged $209 per night, instead of total.”
Teja has agreed to pay the $30,000 in monthly payments of $5,000. The first payment is due Sept. 15. Subsequent payments are due on the 15th of each month.
The agreement also calls for Teja to pay back each customer who was overcharged during the period of time in question. The reimbursement amount will be determined by how much any party overpaid for a room, multiplied by how many nights they paid for the room.
The Comfort Inn is to go through its books and find each party that was overcharged, determine the amount they are owed and issue refunds.
The hotel has 15 days from the execution of the agreement to deliver the refunds, and show proof of those refunds to the Department of Justice within 30 days.
Within 22 days of the execution of the agreement, Teja is required to pay the Department of Justice any refund money that the hotel was unable to deliver.
Teja also agreed to take steps to ensure that Comfort Inn management and staff know about state laws connected to price gouging and “are trained to recognize and identify potential violations” of state laws that govern such overcharges.
If the Department of Justice determines that Teja has failed to comply with any condition of the agreement, the agency may immediately seek to collect the entire unpaid balance. Additionally, a violation of the terms of the agreement could result in civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each violation, the agreement states.
NOT ALONEThe Comfort Inn is the second hotel in Roseburg to be fined for overcharging customers during last year’s wildfires.
In February, the Days Inn by Wyndham in Roseburg agreed to pay $31,000 to the Oregon Department of Justice for overcharging dozens of area residents who sought rooms after fleeing the Archie Creek Fire. The hotel is located at 790 NW Garden Valley Blvd.
Devon Kumar, who lives in a suburb of Portland, is listed with the state as the owner of the Days Inn. Kumar agreed to pay the $31,000 in six equal monthly payments. He also refunded at least 31 customers a total of $4,860 in overcharges, according to court documents.
Complaints of price gouging became prominent last summer as wildfires burned more than 1 million acres across the state and displaced an estimated 40,000 people.
Gov. Kate Brown issued an executive order to halt price gouging during the statewide wildfire emergency.
Brown declared an “abnormal market disruption” after reports showed an unusual increase in lodging rates for Oregonians forced to evacuate because of fire danger.
“During a statewide emergency, it is absolutely unacceptable to price gouge Oregonians who have already been hard hit and are facing devastating loss,” Brown said then.
The Comfort Inn is the fifth Oregon hotel to enter into a settlement agreement for price gouging. In addition to the two Roseburg hotels, the other hotels fined were the Capital Inn & Suites in Salem, Le Chateau Inn in Florence, and Rodeway Inn Willamette River in Corvallis
Combined, the hotels paid more than $135,000 in fines. The four hotels besides the Comfort Inn have also refunded nearly $10,000 to about 100 customers overcharged, according to the Department of Justice.
The Comfort Inn is still in the process of delivering the refunds.