In my earlier article, Profiting From Fear: What You Need to Know About Price Gouging During the Coronavirus Emergency, I discuss price gouging and how the anti-price gouging statute, California Penal Code 396 (“CPC 396”), protects buyers of goods and services deemed vital and necessary for the health, safety and welfare of consumers. Part II of the article provides guidance to landlords on the parameters applicable to acceptable price increases and focuses attention on the application of CPC 396 to rental housing and related issues.
California Penal Code 396
As it pertains to housing, defined as “any rental housing with an initial lease term of no longer than one year,” price gouging occurs when a landlord increases the rent of an existing or prospective tenant by more than 10 percent of the previously charged or advertised price following an emergency or disaster declaration for a period of 30 days.2 A residential landlord is only allowed to increase rent in excess of 10 percent if “the increase is directly attributable to additional costs for repairs or additions beyond normal maintenance that were amortized over the rental term that caused the rent to be increased greater than 10 percent or that an increase was contractually agreed to by the tenant prior to the proclamation or declaration” (CPC 396(e).) Further, landlords are prohibited from evicting a tenant and then re-renting the property at a rate that the landlord would have been prohibited from charging the evicted tenant under the statute (CPC 396(f).)3