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North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein filed the lawsuit Thursday
North Carolina’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Thursday against a Florida-based tree service and charged that it gouged prices in the Wilmington area in the wake of Hurricane Florence.
“My office will not allow price gouging to go unchecked,” Attorney General Josh Stein said in a prepared statement. “These out-of-state operators took advantage of homeowners rebuilding after Hurricane Florence.”
The lawsuit, filed in Wake County Superior Court, notes Canary Tree Service charged two Wilmington homeowners $9,500 for roughly 4½ hours of work by a three-man crew on Sept. 18, just days after Florence downed hundreds of trees in the area.
The suit also charges that Justin Hartmann, identified as “president-owner-operator” of Canary Tree Service, charged a Hampstead area homeowner $4,500 to have a six-man crew work for an hour on Sept. 20, cutting down two loblolly pines and clearing debris. That worked out to a charge of $750 per man-hour.
Another Wilmington homeowner paid $14,000 on a credit card on Sept. 15 to have Canary Tree Service remove four trees and clear debris. A five-man crew finished the job in six hours, according to the lawsuit.
All four transactions, according to Stein, violate North Carolina’s statutes against price gouging.
A fifth homeowner was offered an estimate to remove a small tree for $750, the suit alleges. The homeowner did not agree to the transaction, and a neighbor later removed the tree with a chainsaw after about an hour’s work.
The lawsuit charges Canary Tree Service and Hartmann with multiple violations of North Carolina’s law against unfair and deceptive trade practices. In addition, it alleges that they did not notify the homeowners of their right to cancel a contract within 72 hours, as required by law.
It’s not the first actions taken against price gouging following the storm, including a lawsuit that noted a $29,500 bill to remove one tree.
Stein announced the lawsuit Thursday morning in Wilmington after speaking at a panel discussion on disaster preparedness and consumer fraud at the New Hanover County Senior Resource Center.
Reporter Ben Steelman can be reached at 910-343-2208 or Ben.Steelman@StarNewsOnline.com.