OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency amidst the ongoing series of storms set to continue through mid-March. The proclaimed state of emergency expands storm response and relief efforts in 21 additional counties including Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Lake, Mendocino, Merced, Monterey, Napa, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Yuba. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta urges Californians to take precautions to stay safe during the storms and reminds them that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“As Californians continue to endure extreme weather conditions, last night’s emergency declaration seeks to provide needed relief to affected communities across California,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While demand for essential goods and supplies may be impacted by the storms, Californians should not have to bear the burden of unreasonable price increases during a time of struggle for many. As price gouging protections are in full effect, I urge businesses to refrain from using this current demand as an opportunity to line their pockets. My office is closely monitoring the market and will take swift action against those who violate the law. If you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, I urge you to report it to your local authorities or to my office at oag.ca.gov/report.”
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.