RAISING THE RENT | Are Southeast Texas rental properties price gouging?

If you're on the market for a rental property Post-Harvey, you may have noticed that prices are higher than normal. Are these price hikes the product of supply and demand? Or, are you being taken advantage of by price gougers? 12 News Anchor DeJonique Garrison breaks down what classifies price gouging--- and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim.

More than 1600 Southeast Texans are still living in hotels thanks to Tropical Storm Harvey.

As people are still trying to make their way back home, things are getting more complicated due to the increase in rental rates.

Because of this, several complaints were filed with the Texas Attorney General's office with claims of price gouging.

Loading ...

MORE | Average rent costs in Beaumont

"In the event of a disaster, as declared by the governor, price gouging is charging excessive or exorbitant fees for food, medicine, fuel, or other necessities," said Rick Berlin, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Texas.

Those "other necessities" include housing.

In Southeast Texas, the average cost for a one bedroom apartment is $951 according to the online tracker Rent Jungle.

Compared to this time last year, that's about $50 more than renters were previously dishing out.

This updated rate lands the area in the middle of Abilene and Odessa, both similar in size and population.

But, that doesn't mean everyone in the housing market is playing fair.

Since Harvey made landfall, the Texas Attorney General's Office has been sifting through more than 5,000 cases of Texans who say they are being charged unreasonable rates for food, gas, or housing.

While it's clear prices have spiked, there's a fine line to walk when analyzing these complaints according to Berlin.

"We don't want to hamstring the private individuals that are renting out these places. But, at the same time, we don't want anyone to take advantage of the storm by charging excessive rates," Berlin told 12News.

So, how does the department decide which cases have merit?

Using Beaumont as an example 12News visited five apartment complexes that are comparable in size, location and amenities.

If all five of these complexes were to raise their rates by $500, it may be a pain, but it's not illegal.

So, officials look for rates that stand out.

"If you've increased those prices by more than 10%, we're going to look at it," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said at a press conference during the storm.

Loading ...

Out of the five properties, two were below the city's average.

The other three hovered around $1,000, with one standing out as the highest.

A tenant looking to rent at that property would have the highest chance at making a successful claim.

Berlin says the biggest piece of advice he can offer if you're on the market is to do your homework.

"It's always easier to keep your money than to get it back from somebody.They can get on the internet and very easily check prices in that neighborhood for similarly situated properties," Berlin said.

If you feel like you're a victim of price gouging, have proof to back up your case he says

"What we typically see when we get to court is he who has the best documents wins," said Berlin.

Lastly, officials from the Attorney General's office say they won't stop working for you until the case is closed.

"Our office is going through each and every one of them. As they always say, "an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure," said Berlin.