California AG Bonta Warns Against Illegal Price Gouging

Attorney General Bonta Warns Against Illegal Price Gouging Following State of Emergency Declaration in Mariposa County Due to Oak Fire

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency for Mariposa County due to the Oak Fire, which has destroyed homes, threatened critical infrastructure, and forced the evacuation of thousands of residents since it began burning on Friday.  Attorney General Bonta reminds all Californians that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.

“With the destructive Oak Fire burning near Yosemite, thousands of Californians have been forced to flee their homes,” said Attorney General Bonta.  “California’s price gouging law protects these residents from being taken advantage of during this time of crisis.  If you believe you are being overcharged for essential supplies or have information on potential price gouging, I encourage you to file a complaint with my office at oag.ca.gov or with your local authorities.”

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.