While PPE, toilet paper, and groceries make price gouging headlines, consumer goods are not the only goods covered by price gouging laws in many states. Less publicized, but equally important, lodging or housing may be found on lists of products covered by many price gouging statutes.

A recent case in California offers a glimpse. In California, the statute prohibits selling, or offering for sale, a lengthy list of goods and services “for a price of more than 10% greater than the price charged by that person for those goods or services immediately prior to the proclamation or declaration of emergency.” Among other things, California’s price gouging statute covers “housing.”

In February, the City of Santa Monica filed suit against a property owner alleging a violation of the state’s price gouging law. The City alleged the owners of a multi-unit apartment building in Santa Monica had raised tenants’ rent by more than the allowable 10%. On December 23, 2019, the California Governor extended a state of emergency declaration in relation to the California wildfires. The Governor also declared a state of emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19 beginning March 4, 2020.

The City’s complaint alleges that a tenant at the apartment building had been paying $865 per month in rent in December 2019 and January 2020. According to the City, that price increased to $2,336 in February 2020. The City also alleges that the property owners raised the rent prices again in March 2020, from $2,336 to $3,000. The property owners deny wrong-doing, and stated that the City’s suit is in retaliation for the property owners’ filing suit against the City on another issue. The case is scheduled for a hearing on March 24, 2021.

California is not alone in prohibiting price increases on housing during an emergency. Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia also explicitly list “housing” in their price gouging statutes. Similarly, Kansas and Vermont include both “housing” and “lodging.” Texas is the lone state to mention only “lodging.”

While most of these states simply include “housing” or “lodging” in the longer list of covered items, others, like South Carolina include a specific provision for housing.  South Carolina prohibits “impos[ing] 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 within the area for which the state of disaster is declared.”

In light of the restrictions in place and the ongoing enforcement, property owners, landlords, and hoteliers should consider how their prices have changed or may change in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These business should use best practices, conduct a price gouging audit, and assess the risk of price gouging claims when managing their compliance efforts and measures.

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Visit Proskauer on Price Gouging for antitrust insights on COVID-19.

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Proskauer’s cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional Coronavirus Response Team is focused on supporting and addressing client concerns. Visit our Coronavirus Resource Center for guidance on risk management measures, practical steps businesses can take and resources to help manage ongoing operations.

Photo of Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s nationwide Antitrust Group. He represents clients in civil and criminal antitrust litigation, defending mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, defending companies involved in government investigations, and providing antitrust counseling.

Chris has handled antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including advertising, aerospace, alcoholic beverages, appliances, building materials, consumer products, defense, franchise, medical devices, metals, mining, natural resources, oil and gas, packaging, pharmaceuticals, software and telecommunications. He also has developed substantial experience advising clients regarding the application of the antitrust laws to the pharmaceutical industry, the agriculture industry, trade associations and the energy industry.

Photo of John R. Ingrassia John R. Ingrassia

When competition or antitrust questions arise, John Ingrassia is sought out for his knowledge, reputation and credentials.

John is a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review, and for more than 20 years has counselled businesses facing the most challenging antitrust issues and…

When competition or antitrust questions arise, John Ingrassia is sought out for his knowledge, reputation and credentials.

John is a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review, and for more than 20 years has counselled businesses facing the most challenging antitrust issues and helped them stay out of the crosshairs — whether its distribution, pricing, channel management, mergers, acquisitions or joint ventures.

John is a senior counsel at the Firm, advising on the full range of antitrust matters in diverse industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services and health care, among others.  His practice focuses on the analysis and resolution of antitrust issues related to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and the analysis and assessment of pre-merger notification requirements. John has extensive experience with the legal, practical, and technical requirements of merger clearance and is regularly invited to participate in Federal Trade Commission and bar association meetings regarding Hart-Scott-Rodino practice issues.

Photo of Shannon D. McGowan Shannon D. McGowan

Shannon McGowan earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she captained the school’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team.

Prior to law school, Shannon served as a legislative assistant to state representatives at the Oklahoma State…

Shannon McGowan earned her J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law, where she captained the school’s Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court team.

Prior to law school, Shannon served as a legislative assistant to state representatives at the Oklahoma State House of Representatives.