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Wildfire Price-Gouging Laws in Effect Statewide

Governor Newsome declared a State of Emergency on March 22 due to the high risk of wildfires. This state of emergency appears to trigger California Penal Code section 396, which prohibits price gouging (defined as increases over 10%) for necessary goods and services after the governor declares a state of emergency. For tenants in CA facing high rent increases, this would mean any increase of rent above 10% is prohibited.

Housing – defined in the law as “any rental housing with an initial lease term of no longer than one year” is specifically enumerated as one of the services for which the price cannot be raised over 10%. There is a narrow exception for price increases over 10% if the landlord proves the increase is directly related to cost increases.

Tenants who face rent increases over 10% in areas where the state of emergency has been declared should seek help immediately. Resources include local legal aid offices and local district attorneys. Price gouging tenants is not just a civil violation, but a criminal misdemeanor under the law.

NOTE: Due to the lack of precedent in enforcing the rent-gouging protections under California Penal Code 396, please read through all the available information and speak to a legal professional for any legal advice.

IF YOU ARE:

A tenant in California and you have received a rent increase of above 10% between March 22, 2019 – April 22, 2019

A tenant in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Santa Barbara, Siskiyou, Sonoma, and Ventura Counties who has received a rent increase of over 10% after February 8, 2019, but before May 31, 2019

A tenant in the City of Chico and received a rent increase over 10% after November 8th, 2018 but before May 8, 2019

YOU CAN:

Read the FAQ on price gouging on the California Attorney General’s website, here (https://oag.ca.gov/consumers/pricegougingduringdisasters)

Write a letter to your landlord objecting the rent increase and informing them of this prohibition.

If other tenants in the building received similar rent increases, get together and send a joint letter from all the impacted tenants.

If the landlord refuses to withdraw the increase, contact your local District Attorney. The Santa Cruz County district attorney is Jeff Rossell, who can be contacted by email or phone.

Jeff Rossell, Santa Cruz DA: dao@co.santa-cruz.ca.us, (831) 454-2400

File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office by going to the Attorney General’s website (https://oag.ca.gov/…/consumer-complaint-against-business-or…) or by calling (800) 952-5225.

Santa Cruz City Council Funds Tenant Education Program (that’s us!)

“SANTA CRUZ — A new community tenants’ legal support group has been funded for as much as $30,000, more than a year after the venture first earned the city’s blessing to launch.

‘Santa Cruz renters, indeed all tenants, have recognized and well-documented barriers to accessing legal aid for housing problems’ the Tenant Sanctuary letter states. ‘Lack of legal support can lead to unnecessary displacement and other life-changing housing consequences.’

Read this article here.