Real Estate Agent Charged With Price Gouging on Novato Rental After North Bay Fires

A real estate agent in the North Bay faced charges after she allegedly raised a Novato property's monthly rent more than 10 percent, to $9,000, after the devastating wildfires in neighboring counties, according to the state Attorney General's Office.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Monday filed three misdemeanor charges against Melissa “Missy” Echeverria for allegedly raising the monthly rent from $5,000 to $9,000 on a property on Blanca Drive in Novato. The blazes prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency on Oct. 9, and price gouging during a state of emergency is illegal in California.

"There are some unscrupulous individuals who engage in price gouging, taking advantage of those who are already suffering," Becerra said in a statement released Monday. "It’s wrong, it’s unconscionable, and it’s illegal."

After initially offering the property for $9,000 on Oct. 12, Echeverria lowered the offering to $7,000 on Oct. 13 then to $5,800 on Oct. 16, according to the complaint. Each of the subsequent offerings, while lower, still were in violation of the gouging law.

The price gouging law also applies to those who sell food, emergency supplies, medical supplies, building materials and gasoline, as well as repair or reconstruction services, emergency cleanup services, transportation, freight and storage services, hotel accommodations and rental housing, the Attorney General's Office said.

Violators are subject to prosecution that could result in a one-year jail term and/or a fine of up to $10,000. They also could face civil penalties, the Attorney General's Office said.

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