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September 27, 2020
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AG Becerra issues consumer alert on price gouging in fire-affected communities

January 4, 2019

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued an alert reminding consumers that price-gouging prohibitions remain in effect in locations throughout the state. Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that price gouging during and after a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.

Price gouging is prohibited anywhere in the state where there is an increased consumer demand as a result of a declared emergency. Emergency Declarations are active in fire-affected communities across California, including Butte, Colusa, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sonoma and Ventura Counties. Local declarations may also trigger price-gouging protections.

“Families affected by wildfires throughout the state are trying to rebuild and recover, and they should be able to do so without the worry of being cheated. We remind consumers that California’s price gouging prohibitions apply not only during the immediate disaster, but also after a state of emergency has been declared, when families are working to rebuild,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Our state’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food and other essential supplies. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint through my Office’s website or call (800) 952-5225, 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. 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, transportation, 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 $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.