OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Trinity County due to the McFarland and Monument fires; Tehama County due to the McFarland and Dixie fires; and Shasta County due to the McFarland fire. The fires collectively have burned nearly 100,000 acres, destroyed homes, and caused the evacuation of thousands of residents in these counties. Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“California is battling a fire season of historic proportions, and my heart goes out to everyone who has been greatly affected by any one of the fires currently burning throughout the state. The Governor’s emergency declaration for the counties of Trinity, Tehama, and Shasta put in place some very important protections,” said Attorney General Bonta. “It is important to know that California law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on housing, gas, food, and other essential supplies. If you see price gouging — or if you've been the victim of it — I encourage you to immediately file a complaint with my office online at oag.ca.gov/report, or contact your local police department or sheriff’s office.”
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10%, the price a seller charged for 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, 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 $2,500 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.