I spoke this afternoon with Tricia Pummill, consumer protection deputy with the District Attorney’s Office. I was following up on this post yesterday, a head-scratcher over the legality of landlords boosting rents after the fires. (See Tuesday’s story on the issue.)

I asked Pummill what the response had been this week.

“We are getting a lot of calls,” she said. “But very few people have even an address to go on. It’s very rumor driven. It’s driven a lot by the press, actually. … We’re taking information and looking at every single complaint.”

But there’s more than just rumor. We mentioned 7362 Catalina Trail, an estate in Santaluz that had been listed for lease on the MLS for $8,000 a month, in the story. Here’s more:

But on Friday, while fires had been raging for six days, [the owner] changed the lease price to $10,500 a month, an increase of 31 percent.

The home is one of 20 of the 118 rental listings on the MLS in the communities of Poway, Rancho Bernardo, 4S Ranch, Santaluz and Rancho Peñasquitos that have raised their rents since the fire started.

Pummill said she hadn’t seen the story, so I forwarded her a copy and asked her to comment on the situations we described. I’ll keep you posted.

And about the legality of raising rents, Pummill said she disagrees with the distinction some are trying to make that single-family detached homes enjoy greater price-raising freedom in these post-disaster days than do apartments.

“Here’s the definition of housing — any rental housing leased on a month-to-month term,” she said.

But she said there’s a long road to hoe in some cases to prove the prices for the exact service have gone up.

“We also have to prove our case in court — What was the offer previously? What was the offer after?” she said. “There is a little out for somebody if the person can show that they’re charging more because their costs have gone up.”

Although Pummill said the statute’s pretty clear, she said she could see ways to get around it.

Pummill said her team is investigating the tips they get as soon as possible, because the price-gouging statute only applies to the first 30 days after the emergency is declared.

“We have a very specific criminal law and we’re looking in each instance,” she said. “We will pursue each one.”

She left me with her office’s complaint hotline for instances like these: 619.531.4070.


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