Business & Economy

LA County investigates price-gouging in Porter Ranch

This photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 shows a neighborhood in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility located in the mountains in the background. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over a massive natural-gas leak that has been spewing methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighborhood for months, sickening residents and forcing thousands to evacuate. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
This photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 shows a neighborhood in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility located in the mountains in the background. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over a massive natural-gas leak that has been spewing methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighborhood for months, sickening residents and forcing thousands to evacuate. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
Brian Melley/AP

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The L.A. County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs says it's now investigating five formal complaints of price gouging related to the Porter Ranch gas leak.  

Reports of price gouging began surfacing earlier this month, as Porter Ranch residents looked for temporary housing in neighboring cities to get away from the leak. Some said they were being quoted rents as high as $6,000 per month. At that point, the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs — or DCBA — said it hadn't received any formal complaints.

The DCBA launched an outreach campaign to let consumers know they shouldn't be overcharged for anything during an emergency. It distributed information cards in English and Spanish for consumers and businesses and tweeted regularly on the topic:

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Now the DCBA says five formal complaints were filed in the last 10 days, and they all relate to rental prices quoted to Porter Ranch residents seeking to relocate. The department would not comment on the status of the investigations.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency in Porter Ranch. That declaration triggers rules about price-gouging that the DCBA spells out on its web site:

If the government (e.g. President, Governor, mayor, County Board of Supervisors) declares an emergency, it is a crime (price gouging) to increase prices of food, repairs, construction, housing, emergency and medical supplies, and gasoline more than 10 percent in the disaster area. Businesses can raise prices more than 10 percent after a disaster only if the increase is due to price increases from their suppliers.

The penalty for price gouging is a fine of up to $10,000, one year in jail, or both.  The DCBA urges business to keep detailed records of their prices. And it urges consumers who believe a business is breaking the law to save their receipts and call the office at 1-800-593-8222.

Price-gouging doc