OAKLAND — California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency amidst the ongoing relief efforts from a series of severe winter storms striking the state and impacting multiple counties. The proclaimed state of emergency expands storm response and relief efforts in the counties of Contra Costa, Riverside, San Diego, and Yolo. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds businesses that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“The state of California continues to expand relief efforts across communities severely impacted by the winter storms,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As more Californians receive aid, it’s important that businesses know price gouging protections are in full effect — businesses cannot take advantage of the ongoing demand for essential supplies to unlawfully increase prices. If you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, I urge you to report it to your local authorities or to my office at oag.ca.gov/report.”
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. 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.
For additional information on price gouging, please see oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters.