SACRAMENTO July 30, 2018 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency in Lake, Mariposa, Mendocino, and Napa Counties due to widespread natural disasters. Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“We are all grappling with the heartbreaking loss of life due to fires throughout the State. During this difficult time, it is imperative that we continue to look out for one another and remain vigilant of illegal price gouging,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It is appalling to think of businesses taking advantage of people by illegally raising prices at time when they face the most dire need for goods and services. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint through my Office’s website or call (800) 952-5225, or to contact their local police department or sheriff’s office.”
During and after a state of emergency, California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before the declaration of emergency. This law applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials and gasoline. The law also applies to repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations and rental housing. Exceptions to this prohibition exist if, for example, the price of labor, goods, or materials has increased for the business.
Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution that can result in a one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violators are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.