California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, joined by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Ventura County District Attorney Gregory D. Totten, today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency in Ventura and Los Angeles Counties due to widespread fires.
They remind all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“Fires have quickly spread in Southern California, fueled by strong winds,” Becerra said. “As our brave firefighters are working to contain the blazes and as many Californians are being evacuated, it should not be open season on innocent victims. Our State’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food, and other essential supplies.
“As the top law enforcement officer in California,” he said, “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.”
“Members of the public should be on the lookout for excessive price increases to essential consumer goods and services during this time of emergency when thousands of Southern California residents have been either temporarily or permanently displaced from their homes by the wildfires,” Lacey said. “Price gouging during a state emergency is against the law and should be reported. My office is committed to aggressively prosecuting unscrupulous vendors looking to make a quick buck at the expense of someone else’s personal tragedy.”
“Ventura County businesses historically have shown great restraint and compassion for those affected by disasters,” Totten said. “For any in the community who would give in to the temptation to benefit from others’ misfortune, we will take price gouging very seriously and will act to ensure it is not profitable.”
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.