Attorney General Becerra Issues Consumer Alert on Price Gouging Following Statewide Declaration of Emergency for Novel Coronavirus Cases in California Communities

SACRAMENTO: March 4, 2020 – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today issued a price gouging alert following recent statewide public health emergency declaration responding to novel coronavirus in California. Attorney General Becerra reminds all Californians that, under Penal Code Section 396, price gouging is illegal in all California communities during the declared state of emergency.
 
“Communities throughout our state are working to prevent and treat this public health threat,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Californians shouldn’t have to worry about being cheated while dealing with the effects of coronavirus. Our state’s price gouging law protects people impacted by an emergency from illegal price gouging on medical supplies, food, gas, and other essential supplies. I encourage anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, to immediately file a complaint through my office’s website, call (800) 952-5225, or contact their local police department or sheriff’s office.”
 
California law generally prohibits charging a price that exceeds, by more than 10 percent, the price of an item before a state or local declaration of emergency. 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 $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution. The Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.

A copy of the emergency declaration is available here. For the latest on the state’s COVID-19 preparedness and response, visit cdph.ca.gov.

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