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North Bay wildfire victims urged to report price gouging

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“The landlord told him that he should be prepared to pay as much as $5,000 if he really wanted the place”

Multiple Wildfires Continue To Ravage California Wine Country
Lisa Corwin (center) speaks to firefighters as they search for a strongbox and a wedding ring through the remains of a neighbor's home in the Fountaingrove neighborhood of Santa Rosa.
Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

The fast-moving firestorm that tore through Northern California last week means that many people are now homeless, compounding the region’s housing crisis. It also means that the time is ripe for ne’er-do-wells to exploit this opportunity. Residents in Sonoma County have already reported being illegally overcharged for goods and services after the wildfires. Which is why people are being urged to report any incidents of price gouging.

“Please tell us more about your experience,” says the Press Democrat. “We will inform the proper authorities immediately and publish the offending company after verification.”

The noted North Bay publication isn’t messing around: Residents who suspect they have been gouged on services can fill out a form to help the editorial staff expose price spiking.

The publication also posted an editorial on several incidents of fire-related price gouging. Here’s one nefarious story:

One day after losing his home in the hills northeast of Santa Rosa, Jeffrey Sugarman was on the web searching for a rental. With the help of Zillow, he came across a home on Arabian Way in Healdsburg for $3,700 a month. Two days later, he reached out to set up a visit only to find that the asking price had gone up to $4,700, and the landlord told him that he should be prepared to pay as much as $5,000 if he really wanted the place.

“He said that’s what the insurance will pay, and that’s what we are going to charge,” said Sugarman. “He was very upfront about it.”

And here’s another:

Shawn Devlin who lost her house off Cross Creek Way in Skyfarm had a similar experience—only worse. She and her husband had arranged through their real estate agent to see a home in Novato that had been on the market for some time. It was listed for $5,000 a month. At 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, they had an appointment to see the place. By the time her husband and the agent arrived at 11:30 a.m., the price had gone up to $9,000 a month.

According to the California Penal Code, Section 396, the law bars raising the price of most consumer goods and services (including housing) by more than 10 percent after an emergency has been declared.

Read more about it. And, again, please report any incidents of price gouging.