Six Santa Rosa Landlords Face Prosecution For Price Gouging During North Bay Fires Emergency

The Sonoma County District Attorney's Office has filed three misdemeanor price gouging complaints against six landlords who allegedly raised home rental prices more than 10 percent after a declaration of emergency during the North Bay wildfires in October.

Two of the cases will be in Sonoma County Superior Court Tuesday and the third in early January, Chief Deputy District Attorney Scott Jamar said.

It is illegal to raise the price of a host of items and services including lodging, food, gas and medical supplies more than 10 percent for 30 days after the declaration of an emergency in California, but Gov. Jerry Brown extended that prohibition on price gouging in the fire-devastated counties to April 18, 2018.

Jamar said the District Attorney's Office received about 120 price gouging complaints and found 80 cases that did not apply to the price gouging statute. The other 40 cases are still under investigation, he said.

The greatest disparity in prices alleges Marianne Laruffa and Robert Gardner Howard held a "bidding war" on their Santa Rosa rental property after the emergency declaration was declared, according to Jamar.

The starting rental price was $3,500 a month and the "winning" bid was $10,000 a month, Jamar said. Laruffa and Howard are scheduled to be arraigned in court Jan. 4.

Marjie and Fourouzan Moulana allegedly raised the rent of a Rohnert Park home from $2,650 a month to $3,500, or 32 percent, after the emergency declaration fires, according to the complaint. They are scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

Details on the third case involving two landlords were not immediately available.

The penalty for price gouging during a declared state of emergency is up to a year in the county jail and a fine up to $10,000.

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