Marin landlord, Bay Area property manager charged with price-gouging during wildfires

A Novato landlord and a Bay Area property manager were charged by the state Thursday on allegations of violating the California price-gouging law after a state of emergency was declared in the Tubbs fire in Sonoma and Napa counties last October.

Pamela Kelley, 55, a San Francisco-based real estate agent and property manager, and Richard Scott Parke, 57, who lives in both Marin County and Vietnam, were charged with three misdemeanor counts of price-gouging for allegedly listing Parke’s property at 6 Terry Circle in Novato for rent at a price that exceeded the 10 percent maximum allowed by the state’s price-gouging law, and one misdemeanor count of price-gouging for renting the home at a rate that exceeded the maximum.

Under the state price-gouging law, it is illegal for a landlord to raise rent more than 10 percent when a state of emergency has been declared.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a written statement that he filed the charges in Marin County Superior Court after a state Department of Justice investigation into a complaint referred by the Marin County District Attorney’s Office. The four charges are on suspicion of violations to the price-gouging law that went into effect after Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Oct. 9.

“Using emergency situations to squeeze money from consumers is a disgrace and will not be tolerated,” Becerra said in the statement. “Anyone who would exploit the fires ripping across our state to make a buck off the backs of Californians will be met with the full force of the law.

“During times of crisis,” Becerra said, “it is imperative that we support our neighbors and stop those who exploit others for personal gain.”

When contacted by phone, Kelley wouldn’t comment. Parke could not be reached for comment.

The property was offered for rent before the North Bay fires at $4,950 per month, according to Becerra. At that price, a 10 percent increase would be $495 — for a maximum legal rent of $5,445 per month.

Instead, the property was offered at various times at much higher levels in the days just after the emergency declaration, he said.

On Oct. 10, Becerra alleges, the property was offered for rent at $6,800 a month, well above the original price.

“A few minutes later, the rental price was hiked to $9,500 a month, nearly double the pre-emergency rental rate,” he said in the statement. “On Oct. 11, the property was listed for $7,500 a month, 37 percent above the legal limit. On Oct. 15, the property was listed and rented for $7,825 a month, more than 40 percent above the legal limit and almost $3,000 more than what it had been listed for just a week earlier.”

If Parke and Kelley are convicted, they could each face a potential one-year jail sentence and fines of up to $10,000 for each count. Theirs is the second price gouging case prosecuted in Marin County in the wake of the North Bay wildfires. The first Marin County case, also involving a Novato residence, was announced in April.

As of April, Sonoma County prosecutors had filed four criminal cases after receiving more than 220 complaints.

The October wildfires in Northern California killed 43 people and destroyed about 8,900 structures, including more than 5,600 structures in the Tubbs fire.

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