Attorney General Becerra Files Criminal Charges Against Marin County Operators Pamela Kelley and Scott Parke for Rental Property Price Gouging During Last Year’s Tubbs Fire
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced criminal charges against Pamela Kelley and Scott Parke for raising the monthly rent on a property in Marin County well beyond the legal limit permitted during the state of emergency declared for the 2017 Tubbs Fire. Under California law, price increases on many goods and services, including housing, during or after a state of emergency generally may not exceed 10 percent. Exceptions to our price gouging law are permitted if the excess amount being charged is directly attributable to costs incurred to offer the good or service.
“Using emergency situations to squeeze money from consumers is a disgrace and will not be tolerated,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Anyone who would exploit the fires ripping across our State to make a buck off the backs of Californians will be met with the full force of the law. During times of crisis, it is imperative that we support our neighbors and stop those who exploit others for personal gain.”
As part of ongoing efforts to protect consumers and assist local law enforcement following the fires in Sonoma County last October, the California Department of Justice investigated a complaint referred to the Department by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. Attorney General Becerra alleges that Kelley, a San Francisco-based realtor and property manager, and Parke, a Marin County landlord who lives in both Marin County and Vietnam, engaged in price gouging related to a rental property Parke owns in Novato.
On October 9, 2017, Governor Brown declared a state of emergency in response to North Bay fires. The state of emergency triggered price gouging restrictions in the affected counties, as well as in nearby communities, such as Novato, where the demand for goods and services could be affected by the fires. Kelley and Parke face four misdemeanor counts, one for renting the property at a rate that exceeded the maximum allowed by the price gouging law, and one for each of the three times that Kelley and Parke listed the property for rent at a price that exceeded the legal maximum.
The Attorney General's complaint alleges that:
- Before the fires, the property was offered for rent at $4,950 per month. Under the price gouging law, once an emergency was declared the rent could not be raised by more than 10 percent, or $495, for a maximum legal rent of $5,445 per month.
- On October 10, after the emergency declaration, the property was offered for rent at $6,800 a month, well above the legal limit. A few minutes later, the rental price was hiked to $9,500 a month, nearly double the pre-emergency rental rate.
- On October 11, the property was listed for $7,500 a month, 37 percent above the legal limit.
- On October 15, the property was listed and rented for $7,825 a month, more than 40 percent above the legal limit and almost $3,000 more than what it had been listed for just a week earlier.
Anyone who suspects price gouging should immediately file a complaint with the California Attorney General’s office by going to oag.ca.gov/report or calling (800) 952-5224, or with their local police department or sheriff’s office.
Earlier this year, Attorney General Becerra and Director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Mark Ghilarducci released a public service announcement, “Price Gouging is Not Only Wrong, It’s Illegal.” The PSA encourages members of the public to be vigilant against any illegal price gouging in the wake of natural disasters that have affected thousands of Californians. The PSA can be viewed HERE.
It is important to note that a criminal complaint contains charges that are only allegations against a person. Every defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Copies of the complaints are attached to the electronic version of the release here.