Contact:  Aimee Inglis

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                             

Wednesday October 18th, 2017

Emergency Ban on Excessive Rent Increases Takes Effect in Nine California Counties, after Wildfires

 California’s statewide tenants’ rights organization warned on Wednesday that double digit rent increases following recent wildfires violate Penal Code 396, the state’s anti-price gouging laws. The cap on rent increases was triggered by the Governor’s declarations of states of emergency in nine counties due to wildfires. Tenants Together is holding a webinar at 10am-11am on October 26, 2017, for media, policy makers, lawyers, and organizers on the issue. To sign up for the webinar, visit http://bit.ly/RentBan

  In the Bay Area, where affordable housing is already scarce, the fires have caused a surge in homelessness, as well as a sharp rise in demand for rental units. The price gouging law protects against landlords capitalizing on the heightened vulnerability of tenants.

  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 have 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.

  On October 9th, the Attorney General Becerra issued Consumer Alert on price gouging, stating:

  “Violators of the price gouging statute are subject to criminal prosecution 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 Attorney General and local district attorneys can enforce the statute.”

  “The law says what it says and bars rent increases over 10% following the Governor’s declaration of a state of emergency,” said Dean Preston, Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights.  “Landlords planning to gouge tenants who are desperate for housing should think twice.” 

  Tenants with questions on their rights may call the Tenants Together Hotline at (888) 495-8020. A tenants’ rights fact sheet will also be release next Thursday, October 26th in conjunction with the webinar. Victims of price gouging can file a complaint through the Attorney Generals Office’s website or call (800) 952-522.