On October 9, 2017, the Governor issued an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency because of the wildfires in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Also on October 9, 2017, the Governor issued a second Executive Order declaring a state of emergency in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Nevada, and Orange Counties. On October 10, the Governor issued an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency in Solano County.
California Penal Code section 396 prohibits price gouging (defined as increases over 10%) for necessary goods and services after the governor declares a state of emergency. 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%. The costs of hotel rooms are also covered by the law. Under the price gouging law, there is a narrow exception for price increases over 10% if the landlord proves that the increase is directly attributed to cost increases.
The prohibition on price gouging ordinarily lasts 30 days from the declaration but can be extended by the Governor or locally. Equally importantly, “an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make such a declaration” at the local level can declare a state of emergency triggering the price gouging law, and renew it for 30 days at a time. Tenants Together is urging local government officials impacted directly or indirectly by the fire displacement to pass such declarations.
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 aide offices and local district attorneys. Price gouging tenants is not just a civil violation, but a criminal misdemeanor under the law.
Download the following fact sheets on renters' rights after natural disasters like fires: