Attorney General Bonta Warns Against Illegal Price Gouging Amidst Ongoing Winter Storms
OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency amidst a series of winter storms hammering the state since late February. The state of emergency seeks to provide disaster relief to the impacted counties of Amador, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Mariposa, Mono, Nevada, San Bernardino, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sierra, Sonoma and Tulare, all of which have experienced historic levels of wind, precipitation, and even snowfall. In today’s alert, Attorney General Bonta urges Californians to take precautions to stay safe during the coming storm and reminds them that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.
“From highway closures to power outages and evacuations, the latest series of storms have had critical implications on California residents and its infrastructure,” said Attorney General Bonta. “While the state is working around the clock to provide relief to those impacted by the storms, it's imperative that Californians stay alert by taking the appropriate measures to protect themselves and their loved ones. I’d like to remind businesses that price gouging protections are now in full effect — and as such cannot take advantage of the current demand for essential supplies. 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.
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