OAKLAND, August 6, 2021– California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Siskiyou County due to the Antelope Fire, and for Nevada and Placer counties due to the River Fire. The fires collectively have burned thousands of acres, destroyed homes, and caused the evacuation of thousands of residents. Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“Severe wildfires are impacting thousands of Californians and have forced evacuations. As families worry about their safety, they shouldn’t have to worry about being illegally cheated, too,” said Attorney General Bonta. “California law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food, and other essential supplies. If you see price gouging — or if you’ve been the victim of it — I encourage you to immediately file a complaint with my office online at oag.ca.gov/report, or contact your local police department or sheriff’s office.”
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, 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 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 $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.