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DCBA Urges Vigilance as Tropical Storm Hilary Triggers Consumer Protection Measures

Emergency Declaration Prompts Price Gouging Warning in Los Angeles County

By Dolores Quintana

On August 20, 2023, as Tropical Storm Hilary swept through Southern California, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors took swift action by signing a local emergency declaration. In response to this declaration, the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs (DCBA) issued a stern advisory to business owners and operators in the region, particularly those in the hotel and lodging sector, emphasizing the necessity of adhering to state and county laws that protect consumers from price gouging. It is essential to note that price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal under Penal Code Section 396.

Under normal circumstances, businesses are prohibited from increasing the prices of goods and services by more than 10 percent for consumers affected by an emergency. This restriction applies equally to hotel and motel accommodations, rental housing, and short-term rentals. 

Notably, this protection against price gouging is currently in effect throughout all of Los Angeles County, encompassing areas beyond those immediately affected by Tropical Storm Hilary.

Should consumers believe they have fallen victim to improper overcharging for goods, services, or housing, DCBA strongly recommends retaining all records and receipts and filing a price gouging complaint through DCBA’s “Stop Price Gouging” online reporting tool. Interested individuals can initiate the process by visiting stoppricegouging.dcba.lacounty.gov. This platform enables pinpointing the incident’s location and direct document uploads by DCBA’s specialists for a thorough investigation. Concerned parties may contact DCBA at (800) 593-8222.

Business proprietors and operators in the housing and lodging sectors are urged to maintain meticulous pricing records before, during, and after any officially declared emergency. Non-compliance with the California Price Gouging Law (Penal Code 396) may lead to substantial penalties, including fines of up to $10,000, imprisonment for up to one year, or both.

DCBA’s diligent staff is actively monitoring the pricing of goods and services in the surrounding communities, collaborating with local prosecuting agencies to investigate any reports of alleged price gouging diligently.

Rafael Carbajal, Director of DCBA, reaffirmed the commitment to safeguarding residents and swiftly addressing unlawful conduct, stating, “We are committed to ensuring the safety of our residents and will not hesitate to take action against unscrupulous business owners attempting to break the law and take advantage of our community. We urge the public to report any instances of suspected price gouging.”

Price gouging protections remain in effect for 30 days following a declared emergency and are subject to renewal. Additionally, protections against price gouging about contractor-related services extend for 180 days.

For comprehensive information regarding price gouging and addressing common consumer concerns in the aftermath of disasters, please visit dcba.lacounty.gov/disasterready.

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