The recent winter storms that lashed out across over twenty California counties created the perfect opportunity to address the issue of storm price gouging and the impact it has on the average person.
The legal dictionary defines price gouging as:
“The practice of raising the price of goods, services, or commodities to an unreasonable or unfair level.”
Storm price gouging refers to the dramatic increase in pricing that occurs when a storm hits an area. In short, it refers to a business owner’s greedy desire to make as much money from the disaster as possible. The problem is that not only is storm price gouging cruel, in some cases, but it could also make it impossible for some people to survive the event since the increased prices means they can’t afford the products they need to ensure their survival.
As soon as California Attorney General Rob Bonta learned about the state of emergency, he took to the podium and made it very clear that any California business people who were hoping to benefit from the storm price gouging, they should think again. He was quick to point out that in addition to being immoral, storm price gouging was also illegal in California.
That’s right, price gouging, especially during storms and natural disasters, is against the law in California.
Legally, the maximum amount prices can be raised during a crisis is 10%. And that doesn’t just apply to things like food, batteries, and medical supplies. It’s also illegal for anyone who offers a service people rely on during a crisis, such as a cleanup or emergency recovery, to raise their prices by more than 10%.
There are some specific items that are specifically protected from storm price gouging in California, including:
- Basic groceries
- Emergency supplies (batteries, emergency radios, flashlights, flares, etc.)
- Emergency construction material (plywood, sandbags, duct tape)
- Pet food
- Hotel rates
- Towing services
- Transportation services
- Emergency building repair
- Emergency storm-damaged tree removal
- Hotel rates
California’s residents are protected from storm price gouging by Penal Code (PC) 396. Any business owner who is caught engaging in storm price gouging will be charged with a misdemeanor. If they’re convicted, they could be sentenced to a year in jail and required to pay a fine as large as $10,000. It’s also possible that they will face civil court cases as well.