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.

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Photo of Christopher E. Ondeck Christopher E. Ondeck

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels…

Chris Ondeck is co-chair of the Firm’s Antitrust Group and co-head of the Washington DC office. He represents clients in complex antitrust and consumer protection litigation, defends mergers and acquisitions before the U.S. antitrust agencies, represents companies involved in government investigations, and counsels on antitrust compliance. Chris is also the founder and leader of the firm’s Price Gouging Practice, and is one of the key thought leaders in this space.

Chris handles antitrust matters for clients in a number of industries, including food and agriculture, financial services, media, telecom, technology, e-commerce, consumer products, natural resources, oil and gas, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals.  He also serves as outside counsel to a large number of industry groups, including trade associations and cooperatives.

Chris has been recognized as a leading antitrust practitioner by Chambers, noting that clients describe him as “our primary thought partner – he’s very good at explaining the complex issues and making them easy to understand” and praising “his strong advocacy skills”; by The National Law Review as a “Go To Thought Leader 2020”; by Acritas as a “Star” in multiple years; by Benchmark Litigation as a National Litigation Star 2021; and by The Legal 500 United States for Antitrust: Civil Litigation/Class Actions.

Photo of John R. Ingrassia John R. Ingrassia

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating…

John is a partner at the Firm, advising on the full range of foreign investment and antitrust matters across industries, including chemicals, pharmaceutical, medical devices, telecommunications, financial services consumer goods and health care. He is the first call clients make in matters relating to competition and antitrust, CFIUS or foreign investment issues.

For more than 25 years, John 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, joint ventures, or price gouging compliance.

John’s practice focuses on the analysis and resolution of CFIUS and antitrust issues related to mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures, and the analysis and assessment of pre-merger CFIUS and HSR notification requirements. He advises clients on issues related to CFIUS national security reviews, and on CFIUS submissions when non-U.S. buyers seek to acquire U.S. businesses that have national security sensitivities.  He also regularly advises clients on international antitrust issues arising in proposed acquisitions and joint ventures, including reportability under the EC Merger Regulation and numerous other foreign merger control regimes.

His knowledge, reputation and extensive experience with the legal, practical, and technical requirements of merger clearance make him a recognized authority on Hart-Scott-Rodino antitrust merger review. John is regularly invited to participate in Federal Trade Commission and bar association meetings and takes on the issues of the day.

Photo of Shannon D. McGowan Shannon D. McGowan

Shannon McGowan is an associate in the Litigation department.  Shannon’s practice focuses on assisting clients navigate a range of antitrust issues.  In addition to her experience on wide-ranging antitrust litigations, Shannon works with clients on general antitrust compliance and litigation issues.  In connection…

Shannon McGowan is an associate in the Litigation department.  Shannon’s practice focuses on assisting clients navigate a range of antitrust issues.  In addition to her experience on wide-ranging antitrust litigations, Shannon works with clients on general antitrust compliance and litigation issues.  In connection with historic restructuring of Puerto Rico’s debts, Shannon advises the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico on a variety of issues related to Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act.

Shannon maintains an active pro bono practice, including assisting non-profit organizations with research into immigration and refugee law and representing individual clients in litigation to improve housing conditions in the Washington D.C. area.

Shannon 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.  As an alumnae, she is active in advising the current UVA Jessup Team throughout the year-long competition.

Prior to law school, Shannon served as a legislative assistant to state representatives at the Oklahoma State House of Representatives, where she researched and advised on legislation and policy issues, including government transparency, education, and financial accountability.