Consumer IQ

MintLife Q&A: What Can I Do About an International Anti-Consumer Law?

Justice Gavel

The following question was submitted from a MintLife reader.

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Question: I have a problem I was hoping you could help me with. It happened on a recent trip to Slovenia.

The incident that caused me trouble happened when I was leaving Slovenia to go across one of the new border stations into Croatia. My rental car was from Switzerland and I was driving. I had two Slovene cousins with me and we had just been visiting a church up on a mountain in Slovenia.

Living in America, where no one cares a hoot when you leave the country, it has always seemed strange to me that a police or border unit would want to check us as we leave the country. I expect to produce a passport to enter a country, not leave it.

In this case, the officer on the Slovenian side spoke to us in Slovenian, which I do not understand. We were detained and I finally understood from my cousins that there was some archaic law requiring me to have registered with the local police and pay a tourist tax.

I thought it was a joke and my cousins convinced me that it was in fact a problem, and that if I did not pay a fine on the spot I might end up in jail. The situation was too incredible to believe.

I had gotten cash from a machine earlier in the day and had more cash than usual, so I just happened to have just enough to pay the 300 Euros they demanded.

Since Slovenia is part of the EU, I spoke to my cousins in France about the incident. One of my young cousins is a lawyer. He knew of no such rules or laws in France or the EU.

His father is a journalist for a newspaper and his opinion was that it was a scam and not legal. That’s my opinion too, unless it is some old communist rule that should have been removed or superseded by EU regulations.

It was not a pleasant situation and brings back unpleasant memories. What do you think about such a rule as requiring visitors or tourists to report to the police and paying a tourist tax or being heavily fined or jailed? — James Dangel, Sitka, AK.

Answer: That’s a real law, actually. It’s called zakon o spodbujanju razvoja turizma, a 2004 rule that allows towns in Slovenia to tax visitors between 0.60 euro and 1.25 euro per person per night.

You’re probably wondering why I’m answering a question about an obscure Slovenian law on a consumer advocacy post.

Because, it turns out the world is full of laws that punish consumers and otherwise make no sense. (Oddly, the tax collected is supposed to be used to promote tourism to Slovenia. A strange way to do that, don’t you think?)

Good luck stopping these laws outside the United States. But here at home, you have an opportunity right now to do something about it.

I’m talking about the upcoming election, of course. In a few weeks, you’ll vote for candidates who will determine the direction of your city, state and nation for the next few years.

Disclosure: I’m a registered independent. Really, I am.

Determining which candidate will enact the most reasonable laws is a personal decision that I don’t want to influence. But it’s something to think about.

But you bring up a broader point, too. What do you do when your consumer behavior runs headfirst into a really dumb law like the “tourist tax”?

Fortunately for you, most municipalities in the United States collect a tourist tax as part of your hotel rate. You never really see the money being sucked out of your bank account, and if you pay attention, it’s not quite as painful as having to shell out 300 euros at the border.

But stupid laws abound, from regulations that allow a business to quote a price that doesn’t include all mandatory fees, to anti-consumer rules that protect businesses instead of you, the voter.

I wish I could say the Slovenian tourist fine was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but it isn’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t see rules protecting the guilty and punishing the innocent. The only one who can stop it is you.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.