Man watching at a big bottle of water in a local store.

Coronavirus: Price Gouging

If businesses raise their prices too much during and after the coronavirus health emergency, it may be considered price gouging, a crime in California.

What is price gouging?

Price gouging is the act of a business raising prices of needed products and services over 10% during a declared emergency.

Price gouging is prohibited and is governed by California Penal Code 396 and the Los Angeles County Price Gouging Ordinance. For 30 days following the declaration of emergency, it is illegal for a person, contractor, or business to sell or offer to sell any food items or goods or service for a price of more than 10 percent above the price charged by that person or business immediately before the declaration of emergency was issued.

Typically, this statute applies for 30 days after an emergency declaration. However, the statute applies for 180 days for reconstruction services and emergency cleanup services. State and local municipalities may extend the effective period of the statute beyond these timeframes.

When does California’s anti-price gouging statute apply?

The statute applies immediately after the President of the United States, the Governor of California, or city or county executive officer declares an emergency resulting from any natural or man-made disaster, such as an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm or medical outbreaks or epidemics.

A copy of the emergency declaration is available here:

https://www.gov.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/3.4.20-Coronavirus-SOE-Proclamation.pdf

Who is subject to the statute?

Individuals, businesses, and other entities must comply with the statute.

What goods and services does the anti-price-gouging statute cover?

The statute applies to the following major necessities: lodging (including rental housing, hotels and motels); food and drink (including food and drink for animals); emergency supplies such as water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soap, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, and hammers; and medical supplies such as prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.

It also applies to other goods and services including: home heating oil; building materials, including lumber, construction tools, and windows; transportation; freight; storage services; gasoline and other motor fuels; and repair and reconstruction services.

What do I do if I think a business is price gouging?

If you believe that you have been a victim of price gouging or you suspect a business is price gouging, contact the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs at (800) 593-8222.

California Penal Code 396
L.A. County’s Price Gouging Ordinance

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. Last change: March 10, 2020