OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency as extreme heat strains the grid with increased energy demand. In the alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396. Attorney General Bonta also encourages Californians to be proactive about protecting themselves and their health during the heat wave by limiting their time outside, staying hydrated, and knowing the signs of heat stroke. Californians who do not have access to air conditioning should visit their local government's website for information about cooling centers in their communities.
“Going into Labor Day weekend, Californians across the state are bracing for brutal temperatures that will strain the electricity grid and threaten public health,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Many may seek to prepare by purchasing backup generators and air conditioning units. That’s not an excuse for businesses to jack up their prices. The Governor has declared a state of emergency and price gouging protections are in effect. I urge all Californians to stay cool however they can and to report price gouging if they see it.”
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.
Californians should report price gouging to the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report and to their local authorities. For additional information on price gouging, please see oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters.