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Must also refund $6,500 to customers whose reservations were canceled, rates hiked for rooms during eclipse

JASON CHANEY - Stafford Inn is one of 12 motels in Oregon investigated by Attorney General's Office.

The Stafford Inn, a Prineville hotel, was recently forced to refund $6,500 to six customers for canceling reservations for the eclipse period and/or substantially hiking rates to those customers if they wanted to keep the rooms.

The hotel was also hit with a $1,300 fine by the state for the deceptive practice.

The hotel was one of a handful across Oregon that drew the attention of the Oregon Attorney General's office when similar complaints arose regarding lodging facilities canceling reservations made at standard rates in order to make more money when the demand for rooms for the eclipse was fully realized.

The attorney general's office reported complaints involving 12 hotels in the path of eclipse totality. Seven of those hotels have agreed to honor original reservation rates. Two other hotels in Central Oregon were among the 12; one was found not to be in violation and the case against the other is pending resolution.

The Stafford Inn reportedly sent emails to six customers who had standard rate reservation for dates near the Aug. 21 eclipse, informing them that they were "reorganizing" and a new "holding company" was invalidating their reservation.

The attorney general office reported that the Stafford Inn has been under the same ownership since 2014. The hotel is owned by Rohit Sharma, whose office is located in Lake Oswego. She did not respond to requests for a comment.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had sent a letter to the hotels that had drawn complaints regarding eclipse rate gauging, asking that the hotels honor the rates originally established, or that they give at least $500 to each spurned customer.

"Travelers need to be able to trust that hotels will keep their reservation and honor the original price," Rosenblum said. "While most hotels play by the rules, we are concerned that some could try to make money off of this unique event, and increase the price of the hotel room without telling the customer. We want to make sure travelers know that hotels must honor their advertised prices, regardless of whether the prices are advertised directly by the hotel, or with a third party."

The act of canceling the reservations, then telling customers they could keep the reservations but only at double or triple the price, violates the deceptive practices under Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practices Act. According to Rosenblum, Oregon's Unlawful Trade Practice Act (UTPA) prohibits a business from making unlawful, false or misleading representations concerning the offering price of or a person's cost for services. Booking a reservation for a consumer at a certain rate, followed by the hotel either cancelling or increasing that reservation rate constitutes a deceptive practice under the UTPA.  

There is expected to be at least 300,000 people passing through Central Oregon for the Aug. 21 eclipse — during the days prior to and following the Monday event. Hotels in Central Oregon have long been booked. A wave of private home renting and various private camping/events has been established in Crook and Jefferson counties as individuals provide a needed service and make some money in the process.

Some hotels in the path of the eclipse recognized the potential demand and hiked rates around the event, and hiked rates accordingly, which is a legal practice. Only those lodging facilities that booked rooms at standard rates, then attempted to nullify those bookings after the fact when the demand became realized, were in violation.

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