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Price Gouging Laws by State

When disaster strikes, whether it's a Category 5 hurricane or an uncontrollable wild fire, consumers are often left scrambling for basic necessities such as drinking water and medical supplies. When retailers take advantage of these spikes in demand (often coupled with supply bottlenecks) by charging exorbitant prices for necessities, it's referred to as "price gouging." In most states, price gouging during a time of emergency is considered a violation of unfair or deceptive trade practices law. Most of these laws provide for civil penalties, as enforced by the state attorney general, while some state laws also enforce criminal penalties for price gouging violations.

The definition of "excessive" or "unconscionable" pricing is generally determined by looking at average prices in the affected area over a given look-back period prior to the emergency, typically six months or so. If prices are 10 or 15 percent higher (some states have different thresholds), then it may be determined that price gouging has occurred.

State-by-State Guide to Price Gouging Laws

Below are summaries of state laws prohibiting acts of price gouging in the event of a declared emergency. Keep in mind that laws are always subject to change.

  Summary of the Law: What is Prohibited & Penalties Statute
Alabama
  • Charging "unconscionable" prices for commodities or rental facilities during a declared state of emergency.
  • Civil penalty of $1,000 per incident.

§ 8-31-1, et seq.

Alaska n/a

 

Arizona n/a  
Arkansas
  • Selling commodities, household essentials, fuel, etc. after a declared state of emergency for more than 10% over the cost of these items immediately preceding the declaration.
  • Class A misdemeanor (up to $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail per violation).

§ 4-88-301, et seq.

California
  • Selling commodities, household essentials, fuel, etc. after a declared state of emergency for more than 10% over the cost of these items immediately preceding the declaration.
  • Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 yr. in jail and/or up to a $10,000 fine; civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation (plus injunction and restitution).

PEN § 396

Colorado

n/a

 

Connecticut
  • Selling commodities, household essentials, fuel, etc. after a declared state of emergency for more than acceptable market prices (as determined by the state).
  • Penalties range from $99 - $1,000 and/or up to one year in jail per offense.

§ 42-230, et seq.

Delaware

n/a

 

District of Columbia

  • Selling commodities, household essentials, fuel, etc. after a declared state of emergency for more than 10% over the price at which similar services/products were sold during the 90-day period preceding the emergency.
  • Civil infraction, punishable by up to $1,000 in fines and license/permit revocation/suspension (where applicable).

§ 28-4101 - 4103

Florida
  • Selling commodities, household essentials, rentals, fuel, etc. after a declared state of emergency at "unconscionable" prices("grossly exceeding" average prices in the 30-day period preceding the emergency).
  • 2nd-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $1000 and/or up to 60 days in jail for first offense; $25,000 for multiple violations within a 24-hour period.
§ 501.160
Georgia
  • Selling items or services determined by the Governor during a declared state of emergency to be necessary for public safety at a higher cost than they were immediately prior to the declaration.
  • Charged as a deceptive or unfair trade practice (and investigated by the AG as such); additional civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each violation if "disaster related."

§ 10-1-393.4, et seq.; § 10-1-438

Hawaii
  • "Any increase in the selling price of any commodity" after the Governor declares a state of emergency; also, landlords may not terminate tenancy for residential dwellings in an area subject to severe weather warning or emergency declaration
  • Charged as an unfair or deceptive trade act, subject to fines between $500 and $10,000 per violation
§ 127A-30; § 480-2
Idaho
  • Selling "fuel or food, pharmaceuticals, or water for human consumption at an exorbitant or excessive price" (based on a comparison of prices immediately before and after the declaration) during a declared state of emergency
  • Charged as an unfair trade practice; subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, recovery of actual damages suffered by the consumer(s), and/or an order for specific performance

§ 48-603

Illinois
  • "During any market emergency, for any petroleum-related business to sell or offer to sell any petroleum product for an amount that represents an unconscionably high price" (defined as a "gross dispararity" between the prices immediately before and after the emergency)
  • Charged as an unfair business practice; subject to injunctive relief, restitution, and civil penalties of up to $50,000 per violation

815 ILCS 505/2; Illinois Administrative Code: 465.10, et seq.

Indiana
  • Price-gouging on fuel sales during (and 24 hours before) a declared state of emergency; defined as charging a price that "grossly exceeds" the average price of fuel in the immediate area during the 7 days immediately preceding the declaration
  • Attorney General may investigate complaints, seek appropriate injunctive relief, seek restitution for victims, and collect a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation

§ 4-6-9.1-1, et seq.

Iowa
  • Charging "an excessive price for merchandise to be provided to persons within an area declared to be a disaster area during the period of any declaration of emergency and for the subsequent recovery period."
  • Charged as an unfair business practice; up to $40,000 per violation (an additional $5,000 if victims were elderly), injunctive relief, and restitution.
§ 714.16; Iowa Administrative Code (IAC): 61-31.1 (714)
Kansas
  • For any supplier of a "necessary property or service" to "profiteer from a disaster" by charging 25% or more than the pre-disaster price for such goods/services.
  • Charged as an unconscionable business act or practice; punishable by up to $10,000 per violation (an additional $10,000 if victims were elderly), injunctive relief, and restitution.
§ 50-6,106
Kentucky
  • Selling or renting goods or services (food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, heating oil, housing, gasoline, etc.) "for a price which is grossly in excess of the price prior to the declaration and unrelated to any increased cost to the seller."
  • Punishable by a civil penalty of up to $5,000 for the first violation and up to $10,000 for each additional violation.
§ 367.372, et seq.
Louisiana
  • Selling goods/services during a declared state of emergency (within the designated emergency area) in excess of the ordinary price range immediately before the declaration.
  • Attorney General may bring action to enjoin (cease) the offending act; subject to civil action (including payment of attorney fees) and criminal penalties (up to 5 yrs. hard labor for damage exceeding $5,000, up to 10 yrs. for violations resulting in death).

Tit. 29, § 732, et seq.

Maine
  • Selling or offering for sale "necessities at an unconscionable price" when there is an abnormal market disruption (typically a declaration by the Governor).
  • Charged as an unfair act (civil violation); civil fine of up $10,000; criminal penalties of up to $1,000 and/or up to 3 yrs. in prison.
Title 10, § 1105; § 207
Maryland

n/a

 

Massachusetts
  • Selling "any petroleum product" at an unconscionably high price "during any market emergency" (as declared by the Governor).
  • Civil penalty of $5,000 per violation.

Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR): 940 CMR 3.18

Michigan
  • "Charging the consumer a price that is grossly in excess of the price at which similar property or services are sold" -- regardless of whether there is a declared emergency.
  • Civil penalty of up to $25,000 per violation.

§ 445.903

Minnesota

n/a

 

Mississippi
  • Selling goods and services at above the prices normally charged during a declared state of emergency (or what was charged immediately preceding the declaration).
  • Civil penalty of up $10,000 per violation, plus legal costs; criminal penalties ranging from a misdemeanor (up to $1,000 and 6 months in jail) to a felony (1 to 5 yrs. in prison and/or fine of up to $5,000).

§75-24-25

Missouri
  • Charging within a disaster area an excessive price for any necessity (or that which the seller has reason to believe will likely be provided to consumers within a disaster area).
  • $1,000 civil penalty per violation, injunctive relief, restitution; may be charged as a Class D felony (1-7 yrs. in prison and up to $10,000 fine).

§ 407.020; Missouri Code of State Regulations (CSR): 15 CSR 60-8.030

Montana n/a  
Nebraska

n/a

 
Nevada n/a  
New Hampshire n/a  
New Jersey
  • During a declared emergency, selling goods and services at a price that is at least 10% higher than it was immediately preceding the declaration.
  • Civil penalty of up to $10,000 for first violation, up to $20,000 for each subsequent violation,

56 § 8-107, et seq.

New Mexico n/a  
New York
  • Selling "goods and services vital and necessary for the health, safety and welfare of consumers" at an "unconscionably excessive price" (as determined by the court) during a declared state of emergency.
  • Up to $25,000 civil penalty per violation, restitution.

GBS § 396-r

North Carolina
  • Selling or renting goods and services "used to preserve, protect, or sustain life, health, safety..." at unreasonably excessive prices after an emergency declaration or abnormal market disruption.
  • Civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation.

§ 75-38

North Dakota n/a  
Ohio n/a  
Oklahoma
  • Selling, renting, or leasing goods, services, dwelling units, or storage space after the declaration of an emergency at a price of more than 10% above the rate charged before the declaration.
  • Charged as a violation of the Oklahoma Consumer Protection Act, punishable by up to $10,000 per claim; may also be charged as a misdemeanor (up to $1,000 fine and/or 1 yr. in jail) or felony (up to $5,000 fine and/or up to 10 yrs. in prison).
15 OK St. §§ 777.1, et seq. (download title 15 and scroll to page 169)
Oregon
  • Selling essential consumer goods or services after the declaration of an emergency at a price of more than 15% above the rate charged before the declaration.
  • Considered an unlawful trade practice, subject to injunctive relief and private civil action by individuals for damages.
§ 401.960, et seq.
Pennsylvania
  • Selling consumer goods or services in a geographic region subject to a declared emergency at an "unconscionably excessive price" (at least 20% higher than the normal price range immediate prior to the declaration).
  • Violations subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for each act, in addition to injunctive relief and restitution.
Title 73 § 232.1, et seq.
Puerto Rico (U.S. territory) n/a  
Rhode Island
  • Selling "essential commodities" (i.e. heating fuel, motor fuels, food, water, ice, lumber, etc.) after the declaration of an emergency at an "unconscionably high price."
  • Violations subject to civil penalty of up to $1,000 per violation (and up to $25,000 in total penalties for violations within any 24-hour period).

§ 6-13-21

South Carolina
  • After an emergency is declared, renting or selling a commodity at an unconscionable price or imposing unconscionable prices for the rental or lease of a dwelling unit, including a motel or hotel unit, or other temporary lodging, or self-storage facility.
  • Subject to civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation (up to $15,000 per violation if an injunction has been issued); may be charged as a midemeanor (fine of up to $1,000 and/or 30 days in jail).

§ 39-5-145

South Dakota n/a

 

Tennessee
  • Upon the declaration of a state emergency, charging "grossly excessive" prices for food, construction services, emergency supplies, or other vital goods or services.
  • Subject to civil penalty of between $1,000 and $3,000 per violation.

§ 47-18-5101, et seq.

Texas
  • After a declared emergency, "selling or leasing fuel, food, medicine, or another necessity at an exorbitant or excessive price."
  • Subject to civil penalty of up to $20,000 per violation (up to $250,000 if the victim was over 65 yrs. old) and injunctive relief.

§ 17.46(b)(27)

Utah
  • After a declared emergency, charging an "excessive price" for consumer goods and services (10% higher than normal, or 30% higher for goods and services that were not provided immediately before the declaration).
  • Punishable by the issuance of a cease and desist order and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per day.

§ 13-41-201, et seq.

Vermont
  • After a declared "market emergency," charging "unconscionably high" prices for petroleum or heating fuel-related products or services.
  • Aggrieved parties have the private right of action under the Consumer Protection Act to sue the offending party.

§ 2461d

Virginia
  • During a time of disaster, selling, leasing, or licensing "any necessary goods and services at an unconscionable price."
  • Punishable by a civil penalty of up to $2,500 per violation (up to $5,000 if in violation of an injunction).

§ 59.1-525, et seq.

Washington

n/a

 
West Virginia
  • After a declared state of emergency, selling consumer food items, medical supplies, heating oil, building supplies, etc. at more than 10% of the average cost of those items prior to the declaration.
  • Charged as a misdemeanor (up to $1,000 fine and/or up to 1 yr. in jail).

§ 46A-6J-1, et seq.

Wisconsin
  • Selling, or offering to sell, in this state at wholesale or at retail, consumer goods or services at unreasonably excessive prices after an emergency declaration (15% higher than the average price immediately prior to the declaration)
  • Civil penalty of up to $10,000 and/or permanent injunction against the seller's actions.
§ 100.305; Wisc. Administrative Code: ATCP 106.01, et seq.
Wyoming n/a  

Note: State laws are always subject to change. Make sure to do your own research or contact a local attorney if you have additional questions about a particular state law.

Call an Attorney Before Filing a Price Gouging Complaint

When emergencies strike, essential items such as food, water, and fuel are often difficult to come by -- but they can be out of reach for many when prices are hiked beyond a reasonable level. If you have reason to believe a retailer or individual is engaged in price gouging, consider speaking with a consumer protection attorney near you.

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