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July 12, 2017 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency in Butte County. Butte County, like other parts of the state, is currently dealing with a devastating wildfire that has burned hundreds of acres and forced residents to evacuate their homes. Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“In times of crisis, Californians should be coming together and helping one another,” said Attorney General Becerra. “But too often, some engage in price gouging and profit off of consumers in need. Doing so is not just fundamentally wrong, it’s also illegal. 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.”
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local 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 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.