Santa Rosa, CA – October 1, 2020 – District Attorney Ravitch reminds all Sonoma County residents and businesses that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396, and her office will investigate and prosecute those that attempt to wrongfully profit from the destructive fires and from the pandemic. Violation of Penal Code 396 is a misdemeanor 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 District Attorney and the Attorney General can enforce the statute.
District Attorney Ravitch stated, “We will not tolerate members of our community who have suffered from the ongoing disasters being further victimized by those who seek to take advantage of their predicament and will prosecute those who try to take unfair advantage in these situations by price gouging.”
The price gouging restrictions that went into effect after the Tubbs fire had been extended through December 31, 2020 by Executive Order N-22-19 issued by the Governor prior to the most recent fires. In addition, a new Executive Order was issued on March 14, 2020 relating to the COVID pandemic, which has been extended, and added additional protections with respect to consumer goods related to the health crisis. A new State of Emergency was declared on September 28, 2020 after the Glass Fire. A complete copy of the current version of Penal Code 396 can be found at: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN§ionNum=396
The public should also be aware that Penal Code 396 was amended in January, 2018 by AB 1919 sponsored by Assembly Member Wood and supported by testimony from representatives of the District Attorney’s Office based on the experiences after the Tubbs fire. These amendments added additional protections for price gouging with respect to properties that were not previously been rented prior to the Declaration of Emergency and also for VRBO units that are converted to long-term rentals.
Complaints can be made on the District Attorney’s website at http://sonomacounty.ca.gov/District-Attorney/, or by calling (707) 565-2311.