Opportunistic Landlord Nearly Doubles Rent After North Bay Fires

Under a state of emergency like the North Bay fires, price gouging goes from unethical to illegal.

San Jose firefighters work to save a home in Santa Rosa, Calif. Monday, October 9, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Though rent increases happen often enough, especially in the Bay Area, it’s illegal amid a state of emergency like the North Bay wildfires.

But a real estate agent is accused of raising the monthly rent on a property in Novato amid the devastating blazes. On Tuesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed three misdemeanor charges for alleged price gouging against Melissa Echeverria.

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on October 9, which made raising rent by more than 10 percent illegal. Three days later, Echeverria allegedly raised the rent up to $9,000 from $5,000.

“There are some unscrupulous individuals who engage in price gouging, taking advantage of those who are already suffering,” says Attorney General Xavier Becerra in a statement. “It’s wrong, it’s unconscionable, and it’s illegal.”

At least six landlords also face charges by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office for alleged price gouging. In December, the office announced it was investigating 40 more cases.

Echeverria faces one year in jail or a fine up to $10,000. She is also subject to penalties up to $5,000 per violation.

Price gouging has been pronounced enough for California to make a YouTube PSA, emphasizing that it can go from unethical to illegal under certain circumstances.

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