featured graphic for California Attorney General Rob Bonta

Attorney General Bonta warns against illegal price gouging amidst winter storms

California Attorney General Rob Bonta today issued a consumer alert following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency amidst the ongoing winter storms set to continue this week. The heaviest precipitation is expected Thursday morning in Northern California, extending into Thursday night in Southern California. Residual flooding impacts could extend into the weekend along with additional storms lingering into next week. 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.

“California is currently undergoing another round of heavy rain and potential flooding,” said Attorney General Bonta. “As the state endures road closures, power outages, and other potential impacts, it’s important that Californians take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their families. It’s also important that businesses not take advantage of the current demand for essential supplies. With the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency, price gouging protections are in full effect. If you believe you have been a victim of price gouging, 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.

This article was released by the Office of the California Attorney General.