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Consumer alert on price gouging

November 1, 2019

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a consumer alert following the governor’s declaration of a state of emergency in Sonoma and Los Angeles Counties due to the Kincade and Tick fires. Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.

“Families in Sonoma and Los Angeles Counties are in the midst of dealing with devastating wildfires. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’re being illegally cheated out of fair prices,” 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.