The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an urgency ordinance to strengthen protections for consumers and small businesses and to crack down on price gouging during the COVID-19 pandemic and other emergencies, in response to a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Effective immediately, the ordinance authorizes the filing of civil actions against price gougers at the discretion of County Counsel, and imposes a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation. This comes just months after the Board granted subpoena powers to the County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA), which has received almost 2,000 reports of price gouging and over 700 other complaints from a wide variety of consumers since a State of Emergency was declared on March 4th.
“It is unconscionable to exploit people’s fears during a pandemic and force them to pay exponentially more than is reasonable for goods and services, essential or otherwise,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “With this urgency ordinance, we now have more tools to protect consumers against price gouging, product hoarding and other predatory practices aimed at turning panic into profit. Predators out there should hear us loud and clear today: we will not tolerate their abuse.”
“Price gouging and coronavirus-related scams hit consumers hard at a time when every dollar matters,” said Joseph M. Nicchitta, Director of the County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. “The Board of Supervisors’ approval today of expanded protections against price gouging and related scams is a welcome response to these despicable predatory practices. We look forward to working with the Board of Supervisors, County Counsel, and prosecuting agencies to stop price gougers and scammers who seek to profit from grossly overpriced essential items and fake cures.”
Assistant County Counsel Scott Kuhn added, “This ordinance expands protections for consumers and enables the County to take action to stop those who seek to prey upon the most vulnerable members of our community during times of disaster by price gouging.”
DCBA and County Counsel are partners in the Los Angeles Gouging Task Force, along with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, the Los Angeles City Attorney, the Santa Monica City Attorney, and the California Attorney General. The task force has sent warning letters to dozens of businesses and continues to investigate price gouging complaints throughout the County.
Anyone who believes they have been a victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, should immediately file a complaint through the County’s Stop Price Gouging app at stoppricegouging.dcba.lacounty.gov or by calling (800) 593-8222.