California Code, Penal Code - PEN § 396




(a) The Legislature hereby finds that during a state of emergency or local emergency, including, but not limited to, an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, or other natural or manmade disaster, some merchants have taken unfair advantage of consumers by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.  While the pricing of consumer goods and services is generally best left to the marketplace under ordinary conditions, when a declared state of emergency or local emergency results in abnormal disruptions of the market, the public interest requires that excessive and unjustified increases in the prices of essential consumer goods and services be prohibited.  It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to protect citizens from excessive and unjustified increases in the prices charged during or shortly after a declared state of emergency or local emergency for goods and services that are vital and necessary for the health, safety, and welfare of consumers.  Further, it is the intent of the Legislature that this section be liberally construed so that its beneficial purposes may be served.

(b) Upon the proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make such a declaration in any county, city, or city and county, and for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration, it is unlawful for a person, contractor, business, or other entity to sell or offer to sell any consumer food items or goods, goods or services used for emergency cleanup, emergency supplies, medical supplies, home heating oil, building materials, housing, transportation, freight, and storage services, or gasoline or other motor fuels for a price of more than 10 percent above the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.  However, a greater price increase is not unlawful if that person can prove that the increase in price was directly attributable to additional costs imposed on it by the supplier of the goods, or directly attributable to additional costs for labor or materials used to provide the services, provided that in those situations where the increase in price is attributable to additional costs imposed by the seller's supplier or additional costs of providing the good or service during the state of emergency or local emergency, the price represents no more than 10 percent above the total of the cost to the seller plus the markup customarily applied by the seller for that good or service in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the state of emergency or local emergency.

(c) Upon the proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make such a declaration in any county, city, or city and county, and for a period of 180 days following that proclamation or declaration, it is unlawful for a contractor to sell or offer to sell any repair or reconstruction services or any services used in emergency cleanup for a price of more than 10 percent above the price charged by that person for those services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.  However, a greater price increase is not unlawful if that person can prove that the increase in price was directly attributable to additional costs imposed on it by the supplier of the goods, or directly attributable to additional costs for labor or materials used to provide the services, provided that in those situations where the increase in price is attributable to the additional costs imposed by the contractor's supplier or additional costs of providing the service during the state of emergency or local emergency, the price represents no more than 10 percent above the total of the cost to the contractor plus the markup customarily applied by the contractor for that good or service in the usual course of business immediately prior to the onset of the state of emergency or local emergency.

(d) Upon the proclamation of a state of emergency declared by the President of the United States or the Governor, or upon the declaration of a local emergency by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make such a declaration in any county, city, or city and county, and for a period of 30 days following that proclamation or declaration, it is unlawful for an owner or operator of a hotel or motel to increase the hotel or motel's regular rates, as advertised immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency, by more than 10 percent.  However, a greater price increase is not unlawful if the owner or operator can prove that the increase in price is directly attributable to additional costs imposed on it for goods or labor used in its business, to seasonal adjustments in rates that are regularly scheduled, or to previously contracted rates.

(e) The provisions of this section may be extended for additional 30-day periods, as needed, by a local legislative body, local official, the Governor, or the California Legislature, if deemed necessary to protect the lives, property, or welfare of the citizens.

(f) A violation of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not exceeding one year, or by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.

(g) A violation of this section shall constitute an unlawful business practice and an act of unfair competition within the meaning of Section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code .  The remedies and penalties provided by this section are cumulative to each other, the remedies under Section 17200 of the Business and Professions Code , and the remedies or penalties available under all other laws of this state.

(h) For the purposes of this section, the following terms have the following meanings:

(1) “State of emergency” means a natural or manmade emergency resulting from an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, or other natural or manmade disaster for which a state of emergency has been declared by the President of the United States or the Governor of California.

(2) “Local emergency” means a natural or manmade emergency resulting from an earthquake, flood, fire, riot, storm, drought, plant or animal infestation or disease, or other natural or manmade disaster for which a local emergency has been declared by an official, board, or other governing body vested with authority to make such a declaration in any county, city, or city and county in California.

(3) “Consumer food item” means any article that is used or intended for use for food, drink, confection, or condiment by a person or animal.

(4) “Repair or reconstruction services” means services performed by any person who is required to be licensed under the Contractors' State License Law (Chapter 9 (commencing with Section 7000 ) of Division 3 of the Business and Professions Code), for repairs to residential or commercial property of any type that is damaged as a result of a disaster.

(5) “Emergency supplies” includes, but is not limited to, water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, and hammers.

(6) “Medical supplies” includes, but is not limited to, prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.

(7) “Building materials” means lumber, construction tools, windows, and anything else used in the building or rebuilding of property.

(8) “Gasoline” means any fuel used to power any motor vehicle or power tool.

(9) “Transportation, freight, and storage services” means any service that is performed by any company that contracts to move, store, or transport personal or business property or that rents equipment for those purposes, including towing services.

(10) “Housing” means any rental housing with an initial lease term of no longer than one year.

(11) “Goods” has the same meaning as defined in subdivision (c) of Section 1689.5 of the Civil Code .

(i) Nothing in this section shall preempt any local ordinance prohibiting the same or similar conduct or imposing a more severe penalty for the same conduct prohibited by this section.

(j) A business offering an item for sale at a reduced price immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of the emergency may use the price at which it usually sells the item to calculate the price pursuant to subdivision (b) or (c).





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