OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Shasta County due to the Fawn Fire, which has to date burned 8,559 acres, destroying homes and causing 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.
“As California enters the heart of fire season, multiple fires are already raging across the state. Just last week, in Shasta County, thousands were asked to flee their homes as a result of the Fawn Fire,” said Attorney General Bonta. “California law protects these families from being overcharged for essential supplies during this difficult time. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint with our office online at oag.ca.gov/report 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. For any item a seller only began selling after an emergency declaration, the law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds the seller's cost of the item by more than 50%. 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, certain transportation services, 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.