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As Passover nears, New York's AG warns Jewish customers about car wash price gouging

A truck drives by a car wash in New York City. Public officials are warning Jewish customers of price gouging at local car washes ahead of Passover.
Spencer Platt
/
Getty Images
A truck drives by a car wash in New York City. Public officials are warning Jewish customers of price gouging at local car washes ahead of Passover.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is warning New Yorkers to be wary of potentially discriminatory price gouging at car washes ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover.

James' office said it has received reports of car wash businesses (largely in predominantly Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City) raising prices by as much as 50% for Jewish customers looking for cleaning services close to Passover.

"Taking advantage of someone's religious observances and practices is offensive, discriminatory, and absolutely unacceptable," James said in a press release on Monday. "For millions of observant Jews in New York and beyond, Passover is an important holiday, and their preparations should be respected, not manipulated for profit. I urge any New Yorker who is concerned that they have been a victim of discriminatory behavior because of their religion, race, or background to contact my office immediately."

Passover starts before sundown on April 5 and ends after nightfall on April 13 this year. As part of the holiday, Jews traditionally avoid eating foods made from leavened grain. Many also partake in cleaning their homes, cars, and other spaces of all "chametz," or leavened bread products, beforehand.

Attorney General James' office says some car wash businesses advertise specials for Passover cleaning only to charge Jewish customers more.

Last year this discriminatory price gouging was a major problem, said Gideon Taylor, the executive vice president and CEO of the nonprofit Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

"We're hoping that this statement by the attorney general will make people think long and hard about gouging people who are trying to honor their history, honor their religion," Taylor said.

Both Taylor and New York State Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein said the problem has mainly come up in Brooklyn around the weeks leading up to Passover.

NPR viewed photos of a Brooklyn car wash advertising $79.95 for its "VIP Detail." A Jewish customer who reported bringing in their car in for this service was charged $125 for a service described as "Passover" on their receipt, according to those photos. The services described were no different than the "VIP Detail."

Eichenstein, who represents neighborhoods in Brooklyn, issued a strongly worded video warning car washes against this practice. He called it "bias and discrimination" and said it was illegal to deliberately charge Jewish customers more for the same services.

Eichenstein told NPR he's spoken to the attorney general's office last year over this same issue and is encouraged by the steps taken by James' office again this year.

Local news reports indicate the problem has been around for years. An NBC New York story from 2011 reported price gouging at several car washes in Brooklyn ahead of Passover.

James said she's sent letters to organizations representing car wash owners in New York reminding their members that this kind of price gouging is illegal and should be reported.

James' office says if anyone is aware of businesses using discriminatory practices or believes that they were charged more for services because of their religion, race, or background, they are encouraged to file a complaint with OAG online or call 1-800-771-7755.

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