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OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Riverside County due to the Fairview Fire and for El Dorado and Placer counties due to the Mosquito Fire. These fires have threatened multiple communities and forced tens of thousands of evacuations since they began earlier this week. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396. Californians who believe they have been the victim of price gouging should report it to their local authorities or to the Attorney General at oag.ca.gov/report.
“For more than a week, Californians have stepped up and come together to reduce energy demand and prevent blackouts,” said Attorney General Bonta. “Unfortunately, we were not able to avert all crises. Numerous wildfires are now forcing evacuations across our state. As Californians flee their homes, I want to be crystal clear: Price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal. This means that businesses and landlords cannot raise the price of essential supplies, hotels, rental housing, and more. I urge all Californians to heed evacuation orders, lend a helping hand where they can, and report price gouging when 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.
For additional information on price gouging, please see oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters.