NJ lawmaker: Ban price gouging for weddings delayed by COVID-19
A proposed bipartisan measure would prevent New Jersey consumers from being price gouged while struggling to reschedule weddings and other events derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
State Sen. Vin Gopal, D-Monmouth, said he's heard from families who've been given a "take-it-or-leave-it" approach to rescheduling with stringent options, as well as from caterers who say customers are simply being “unreasonable.”
Gopal introduced the measure on Sept. 14, while Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Monmouth, introduced an identical proposal a few days later.
The senator told New Jersey 101.5 about two months ago that he heard from a constituent who said their wedding weekend date in 2020 couldn’t happen due to the coronavirus health crisis, so the caterer offered a new weeknight date for 2021.
In this case, Gopal said he was told the caterers still wanted to charge a $20,000 rescheduling fee, under a penalty of losing an entire $10,000 deposit.
“We’re obviously very sympathetic to these businesses that are going through a tough time, but there needs to be sympathy and advocacy for the client also,” Gopal said.
The senator said he understands the impact of inflation on expenses, but to "basically gouge folks" without even the choice of a similar weekend date and threaten to withhold an entire deposit seemed "crazy" to him.
The legislation would require refunds for payments made to venues for events canceled due to the pandemic, while also capping additional venue charges at no more than the rate of inflation for rescheduled events.
Gopal said since asking for stories, he has as many as 40 situations that his team is looking into where banquet halls or caterers are being accused of unfairly threatening to keep large deposits while not offering many options for rescheduling next year.
"It seems like some of the cases are coming from the same locations that are the problems," he said.
He also has heard from caterers who have said he might be dealing with cases where brides or grooms were being unreasonable. “I think there’s got to be some middle ground met,” Gopal said, adding his legislation can hopefully be the start of that conversation.
Gopal said there are young couples dealing with amounts that are their life savings in some cases, or other couples that have been out of work during the pandemic and facing new financial hardships.
He said he knows meanwhile, the caterers and venues are trying to dig themselves out from being closed during the height of the pandemic.
On the senator's Facebook page, a post announcing his proposed measure had prompted more than 40 comments by Tuesday evening. A number of them were personal stories shared by couples or relatives describing issues with deposits and rescheduling weddings in 2021.
Gopal said anyone with similar difficulties should share their story, to help get a clearer picture of what might be done to ease an unprecedented situation.