FEMA Notices and Disaster Recovery Information

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is responsible for coordinating and providing access to financial assistance programs in the event of a federally declared natural disaster.

In Sonoma County, recent wildfires have triggered FEMA disaster assistance for county residents who qualify. The information on this page will help you determine if you qualify and, if so, how to apply for assistance.

Sonoma County residents impacted by the Glass Incident fires may be eligible for financial assistance from FEMA.

An Individual Assistance (IA) declaration is required to register for financial assistance. Even though we don’t have an IA declaration for the Glass Incident, the IA declaration for the LNU Complex is still active and open. Sonoma County residents can still register with FEMA through the prior declaration and, if found eligible, file claims for assistance. Registration is available at disasterassistance.gov. The current deadline to register is still October 22.

For those who need support in working with their insurance companies to get the resources they deserve as policy holders, the two videos below provide valuable information.

facebook video https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=247426879989871&extid=0mgQwc0QKRU3LEb7

General FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) About FEMA

See the FAQ section below for general information about FEMA. Also included are special sections relating to people with unique needs based on employment, home ownership, rental status, etc.

If you wish to download PDFs of those special sections, please see the links at the bottom of this page.

FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA is responsible for coordinating and providing access to financial assistance programs in the event of a federally declared natural disaster. Government assistance programs coordinated by FEMA include: Housing Assistance, Home Repair Assistance, Small Business Administration Disaster loans, Farm Service Agency loans, Cora Brown Fund grants, and Other Needs Assistance.

FEMA’s housing assistance program is intended to provide financial assistance to pay the cost of temporary housing, housing repairs, housing replacement, and/or replacement of household items.

To be eligible to receive disaster housing assistance from FEMA you, or someone who lives with you, must be a United States citizen, qualified alien, or non-citizen national, your loss must have occurred at your main place of residence, you must not be insured or be under insured, you must not have an alternative rent-free housing option, and your home must have been damaged or destroyed as a result of a federally declared disaster.

You can register with FEMA at your nearest Local Assistance Center, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA, or by going online to disasterassistance.gov. Keep in mind that you will need to provide certain documentation during registration. To find a list of the necessary documents you can go to disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/application-checklist.

Yes. The current deadlines to complete and submit FEMA applications are as follows:

Housing Assistance – October 21, 2020

Home Repair Assistance – October 21, 2020

Other Needs Assistance Programs – October 21, 2020

Small Business Administration Disaster Loan Program – October 21, 2020

Disaster Unemployment Assistance – Filing deadline is 30 days after the Department of Labor has provided notice of commencement of the Disaster Unemployment Assistance Program.

If you have received a denial letter, you may appeal FEMA’s decision within 60 days of the date of FEMA’s decision. Further information regarding the appeals process can be located on your denial letter. If you would like assistance regarding a FEMA denial, please contact our office.

If you have questions about FEMA you can find more information by going to www.fema.gov or calling 1-800-621-FEMA.

If my home was damaged or destroyed in the fire, can I obtain financial assistance to help pay for temporary housing?

Yes. If your home was damaged or destroyed during the fire, you may be able to obtain financial assistance for temporary housing. FEMA and/or your homeowners’ insurance policy may cover such costs.

If I was required to evacuate during the fire, can I receive reimbursement for my alternative lodging expenses?

Yes. If you were required to evacuate during the fire, most homeowners’ insurance policies cover the cost of temporary housing. If your insurance is not sufficient, FEMA may be able to reimburse you for your hotel or alternative lodging expenses. Keep your receipts.

Do I have to continue to pay my mortgage if the fire destroyed my home?

Yes. If your home was destroyed during the fire, you must continue to make your mortgage payments. In certain situations, you may be able to negotiate with your financial institution to obtain a forbearance agreement (postponing your payments). In addition, some financial institutions have disaster related mortgage repayment programs that can provide a temporary respite from monthly mortgage payments. You should contact your mortgage servicer (the company where you send your monthly payments) to discuss possible mortgage relief options.

If my personal belongings were damaged or destroyed by the fire can I obtain financial assistance to replace them?

Yes. If your personal belongings were damaged or destroyed by the fire, most homeowners’ insurance policies cover the cost to replace your belongings. If your insurance is not sufficient to cover the cost of such items, FEMA or SBA Loans may be able to cover the cost of replacement items. Keep your receipts.  You may also be able to obtain community specific grants created to assist fire survivors.  Check your local resources.

Can I obtain additional financial assistance if my home was damaged or destroyed by the fire and my insurance is not sufficient to cover the cost of rebuilding?

Yes. If your insurance coverage is not sufficient to cover the cost of rebuilding you home, FEMA and SBA Loans may be able to help cover the cost to rebuild or repair your home.

Do I need to obtain a permit to begin rebuilding my home?

Yes. Generally, a homeowner must obtain a building permit before conducting a construction project to repair or rebuild their home.

If my home was damaged or destroyed by the fire, do I need to remove the fire debris on my property?

Yes. Homeowners are responsible for having all fire debris safely and properly removed from their properties. Often local government authorities offer a debris removal program.  If you intend to undertake debris removal yourself, please know that you must comply with all state and local requirements to ensure the protection of public health and safety. Discuss all requirements with your local county contact prior to undertaking any removal: http://wildfirerecovery.org/debris-removal/debris-removal-contacts/

Do I have to keep paying my property tax if my home was destroyed in the fire?

Yes. You do have to continue to pay your property taxes if your home was destroyed in the fire; however, the County Assessor’s Office will reassess the current value of your home and adjust your tax bill accordingly. The County Assessor’s Office will mail you an adjusted bill some time before the end of the year, so, please make sure that you have provided them with your current mailing address.

Do my tenants have to continue to pay rent if their unit was damaged or destroyed by the fire?

It depends:

If the unit was completely destroyed, the tenants do not have to pay rent, and do not have a right to return if the property is rebuilt. You will need to refund any unused portion of the rent, and the security deposit.

If the unit is “red tagged” by local authorities, a tenant does not have to pay rent while the property is not habitable. Once a city inspector declares that the unit is habitable, the tenant has the right to return to it, and must pay rent.

If the unit is “yellow tagged” (damaged but not destroyed), the tenant has continued right to occupy the unit and must continue to pay rent as long as the unit remains habitable. You have the obligations to ensure that the unit is habitable.

Do I have to repair or replace any furniture or appliances damaged or destroyed in the fire?

If you bear some responsibility for the fire (for example, sprinklers were required for the building, but you failed to install them), you may be responsible to pay to repair or replace these items, and others belonging to the tenants.  If not, however, you only have to repair or replace items provided for in the lease agreement (for example, refrigerator or stove – or furniture if the unit was furnished.)

If my rental unit was damaged or destroyed in the fire, can I obtain financial assistance to help pay for temporary housing?

Yes. If your home was damaged or destroyed during the fire, you may be able to obtain financial assistance for temporary housing. FEMA and/or your renters’ insurance policy may cover such costs.

If I was required to evacuate during the fire can I receive reimbursement for my alternative lodging expenses?

Yes. If you were required to evacuate during the fire, you may be able to obtain financial assistance to reimburse you for such costs if you have renter’s insurance or are eligible for FEMA assistance. Keep your receipts.

Do I have to continue to pay rent if my home was damaged or destroyed by the fire?

Possibly. If your rental unit was completely destroyed or substantially damaged by the fire you do not have to continue to pay rent if you terminate your tenancy. You should document the unit’s impaired conditions and write a letter to your landlord (with copies of the documentation enclosed) stating that the unit is not habitable and you consider the lease terminated. However, if your rental unit was simply damaged but not substantially impaired, such that you can continue to live there, you must pay your rent. If your rental unit has been damaged, your landlord must make the repairs necessary to ensure that the rental unit is habitable. If such repairs are necessary, your rent should be reduced on a proportional basis during the time that your landlord is completing the necessary repairs. If you need help negotiating a reduced rental rate with your landlord, please contact our office.

If the fire damaged my rental unit, is my landlord required to repair the rental unit?

Your landlord is required to make sure that your rental unit is habitable. Habitability requires that a rental unit must substantially satisfy all of the following conditions: roof and exterior walls must be waterproof, windows and doors must be unbroken, plumbing and gas systems must be in good working order, hot and cold running water must be provided, sewage disposal systems must be operational, heating equipment must be in good working order, electrical lighting and writing must be maintained in good working order, and floors, stairways, and railings must be kept in good repair. Therefore, if a gas line was damaged due to the fire, or smoke damage can be seen in your rental unit, your landlord may be required to repair such damage. If you have questions regarding the habitability of your rental unit please contact our office.

If the fire damaged my rental unit, can I terminate my lease agreement?

If your rental unit is not habitable, you can terminate your lease. However, if your rental unit is habitable, the normal rules regarding tenancy apply. As a result, as long as your rental unit is habitable, you must provide sufficient notice to your landlord before you can terminate your lease. Generally, a month to month tenancy requires a minimum of 30 days’ notice before the lease can be terminated. If you have questions about your ability to terminate your lease please feel free to contact our office.

If the fire substantially damaged or destroyed my rental unit, am I entitled to receive a refund of my security deposit if the rental unit is not habitable?

Yes. Unless the lease agreement states otherwise, the landlord must return your security deposit within 21 days.

If my personal belongings were damaged or destroyed by the fire can I obtain financial assistance to replace them?

Yes. If your personal belongings were damaged or destroyed by the fire you may be able to obtain financial assistance to replace them. FEMA, U.S. Small Business Administration Loans (SBA Loans), or a personal insurance policy (such as renters’ insurance) may cover such costs. If you were renting your primary residence, you should find out if your landlord named you as an additional insured on the landlord’s policy, in which event it may provide benefits to you. You may also be able to obtain community specific grants created to assist fire survivors.

Is my landlord required to repair or replace any furniture or appliances that were damaged or destroyed by the fire?

If your rental unit is still habitable but an appliance or other furniture was damaged by the fire, your landlord is only required to repair or replace such damaged items if they were included in your lease agreement. For example, if a refrigerator came with your lease agreement and was damaged by the fire, your landlord would likely be required to repair or replace it.

Is my employer required to pay me for the time that I was unable to work due to the fire?

Possibly. Generally, if you are a salaried employee, your employer is required to continue to pay you if you were unable to work due to the fire. Conversely, if you are an hourly or contract employee, your employer is not required to pay you for the work that you missed due to the fire.

Is my employer required to provide me with paid or unpaid leave if I was injured as a result of the fire?

Possibly. Your employer may be required to provide you with unpaid leave, if, you or a member of your immediate family is suffering from a serious health condition or you are disabled and granting such leave would be necessary to reasonably accommodate your disability.

Is my employer required to provide me with paid or unpaid leave if I am too emotionally traumatized to return to work after the fire?

Possibly. Your employer may be required to provide you with unpaid leave, if your emotional trauma constitutes a serious health condition or disability which requires such accommodations.

What benefits can I apply for if I am unable to return to work as a result of the fire?

You may be eligible for federal or state benefits, including: disability benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, or disaster unemployment benefits. Check with your employer or the Employment Development Department to determine your eligibility. You can determine your eligibility and file a claim for Unemployment Insurance Benefits, either by phone at 1-800-300-5616 or online at eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov.

What is Unemployment Insurance and how can I file a claim for it?

Unemployment Insurance provides temporary income to workers who are eligible to work in the United States but have lost their job through no fault of their own. Unemployment Insurance is paid weekly and the payment amount is generally based on the worker’s earnings during the previous calendar year. You can determine your eligibility and file a claim for Unemployment Insurance, either by phone at 1-800-300-5616 or online at eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov.

What is Disaster Unemployment Assistance and how can I file a claim for it?

Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides temporary income to workers who are eligible to work in the United States, do not qualify for Unemployment Insurance, and have lost their income as a direct result of a natural disaster. For example, a person who is self-employed may not be eligible for Unemployment Insurance; however, they may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. You can determine your eligibility and file a claim for Disaster Unemployment Assistance, either by phone as 1-800-300-5616 or online at eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov.

What does a homeowners’ insurance policy generally cover?

A homeowners’ insurance policy generally covers the cost of damage to the insured’s personal property (e.g., furniture, clothes and appliances) and real property (i.e., the insured’s house and other buildings on the premises), as well as the cost of additional living expenses incurred by the insured as a direct result of the loss, such as the cost of food and temporary lodging.

What does a renters’ insurance policy generally cover?

A renters’ insurance policy generally covers damage to the insured’s personal property, as well as the cost of the loss of use of the insured’s rental unit. Depending on the specific scope of coverage, renters’ insurance policies may also cover liability and certain medical expenses associated with the covered loss.

What does comprehensive vehicle insurance generally cover?

Comprehensive vehicle insurance generally covers physical damage to the insured’s vehicle that was not caused by a collision, such as damage caused by a fire. Comprehensive vehicle insurance is not required by law in California, so not everyone has such coverage.

What do I do if my insurance policy was lost or destroyed?

If your insurance paperwork has been lost or destroyed, contact your insurance carrier to request replacement documents. Your insurance provider is legally obligated to provide you with copies of your policy upon request.

What do I do if I don’t know who my insurance carrier is?

If your insurance paperwork was lost or destroyed and you do not know who your insurance provider is, contact your bank or financial institution for help in identifying your insurance carrier.

How do I file an insurance claim?

To file an insurance claim you must contact your insurance carrier. You should start the claims process as soon as possible. Many insurance policies have deadlines for filing claims. It is important to review your insurance contract to know what timelines you must adhere to. Please note that certain contractual timelines are extended if your loss occurs as a result of a declared State of Emergency. Such extensions can include the timeline under which you are entitled access to your insurance benefits, so, please contact our office if you have any questions about such extensions and how they impact your particular insurance policy.

What can I expect after I file my insurance claim?

The insurance company or their designated adjuster (a person professionally trained to assess damage to your property) will ask to examine evidence you have to validate claims of loss.  Examples of evidence may include pictures (taken before or after the property loss), an inventory of damaged property, records and receipts for living expenses incurred due to the property loss, and repair estimates from third parties.

In general, insurance companies should acknowledge receipt of your claim within 15 days of receipt, communicate their final decision regarding your claim within 40 days of receipt, and begin to release insurance funds related to a valid insurance claim within 30 days of your acceptance of the insurance company’s offer. It is important to note that the insurance process can take a significant amount of time. Please contact our office if you need help negotiating with your insurance company.

Will my insurance cover the cost of temporary housing?

Generally, homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies cover the cost of temporary housing after a fire, as well as, the increased cost of related living expenses, such as, food and temporary pet care, up to certain limits. Such coverage is generally referred to as Additional Living Expense coverage or Loss of Use coverage. It is important to check your policy to understand your exact coverage. You should also contact your insurance company to request a list of common items covered as part of such coverage so you understand exactly what you are entitled to be reimbursed for.

Will my insurance policy cover the cost of debris removal?

Your homeowners’ insurance policies may cover a portion of the cost of debris removal; however, it is important to check your policy to understand your exact coverage.

Additionally, the County of Sonoma generally creates a consolidated fire debris removal program (“Program”) to manage the removal of debris from residential properties. There are two phases to the debris removal program. During phase 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspected your property and removed any household hazardous waste that posed a threat to human health, animals, or the environment. Phase 1 of the Program is generally required for all residential properties in Sonoma County when they are damaged by a large scale wildfire.

Participation in Phase 2 is not required for all residential properties in Sonoma County. Instead, the County generally requires all owners of affected residential properties to opt in or opt out of participating in Phase 2. If you choose to opt out of participating in Phase 2, you must make the appropriate arrangements to have any hazardous debris removed from your property in a timely manner. Any debris removal procedures utilized must comply with federal, state, and local law. If you property is located within city limits please contact your local City Hall for more information regarding complying with proper debris removal procedures. If you property is located outside of city limits please contact the Sonoma County Planning Department for more information regarding compliance with the proper debris removal procedures.

During Phase 2, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and local officials coordinate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct fire-related debris removal from residential property owners who have opted in to the Program before the deadline date.

If you agreed to participate in Phase 2 of the Program and had homeowners’ insurance in effect at the time of the wildfire that provides coverage for debris removal, the County generally requires that any debris removal funds available in your insurance contract, be paid to the County as reimbursement. If debris removal coverage is not a specific category of coverage under your homeowners’ insurance policy, any reimbursement for debris removal under Phase 2 of the Program will be limited to any unused insurance benefits that may remain (if any) after you rebuild, replace, or repurchase your residence. As a result, it is a good idea to consult with your insurance company to confirm what portion (if any) of your homeowners’ insurance coverage is dedicated to debris removal..

What can I do if my insurance claim has been denied?

If your insurance claim has been denied, contact your insurance company to obtain information about the appeals process and request a written copy of their reasoning for denying your claim. Once you obtain this information, you may choose to appeal the insurance company’s decision yourself or contact an attorney or public insurance adjuster who can help you with the process. If you believe your claim was unfairly denied, you may also file a Request for Assistance with the California Department of Insurance.

As a consumer who can I contacted to obtain information about the insurance process?

The California Department of Insurance will provide consumer information upon request. The California Department of Insurance can be contacted either by phone at 1-800-927-4357 or online at www.insurance.ca.gov.

Are immigrants eligible for cash assistance from FEMA?

Yes, “qualified” immigrants who meet other FEMA eligibility requirements may be eligible. Or if anyone in the household, including a child under 18, is a U.S. citizen or a “qualified” immigrant, the entire household may be eligible.

What is a “qualified” immigrant?”

A “qualified” immigrant includes lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees or asylees, persons granted withholding of deportation, withholding of removal, or humanitarian parole into the U.S. (if the parole is expected to last at least one year); a Cuban or Haitian entrant under the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980; a survivor of domestic violence (spouse or child/children) with a pending or approved petition for relief; or a trafficking survivor.

What if I am not a “qualified” immigrant but have a U.S. citizen minor child?

An undocumented parent or guardian may apply on behalf of an U.S. citizen child who lives in the household. The child’s name, age, U.S. birth certificate and social security number are required for the application. FEMA can assist with obtaining a social security number. FEMA will not ask for the immigration status of the other household members, but please see below about declaration and sworn statement. 

Do I have to sign anything?

The applicant must sign a sworn statement called a Declaration and Release stating that the applicant is a “qualified” immigrant or, if applying on behalf of a minor child, that the child is a U.S. citizen or a “qualified” immigrant. The Release authorizes FEMA to verify the immigration status of the applicant (but note that if an undocumented adult is applying on behalf of an eligible minor child, FEMA will only verify the immigration status of the minor child).

Who is Not Eligible for FEMA assistance?

You are not eligible if you:

  • Have a non-immigrant visa (other than a T visa), such as work, student, or temporary travel visa
  • Were granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or
  • Were granted relief under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program
  • Other individuals who are not a US citizen or a “qualified” immigrant.

If I receive FEMA cash assistance, will it prevent me from getting a green card of U.S. citizenship by making me a “public charge”?

Under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) guidance, acceptance of emergency disaster relief is not considered public cash assistance that would be weighed in the “public charge” determination.  It should not affect your or a household member’s application for lawful permanent residence (a green card) or citizenship. 

Are undocumented immigrants eligible for non-cash assistance?

Undocumented immigrants may qualify only for limited non-cash FEMA disaster assistance such as crisis counseling and disaster legal services, as well as emergency food, clothing and shelter and other short-term emergency assistance. Various state and local agencies, nonprofit and faith-based organizations also provide services to undocumented immigrants. They may also be eligible for Disaster SNAP (temporary nutrition assistance).

Are agricultural workers eligible for state unemployment benefits?

Yes, farmworkers are eligible for state unemployment benefits in California if they are federally authorized to work and were working during the “base” period.  If a farmworker does not qualify for state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits due to failing to meet the state UI earnings requirement, the farmworker may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA), if he or she was not employed on a small farm.  Applicants for DUA must also be federally authorized to work.

Are immigrant workers eligible for state unemployment benefits and federally-funded Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)?

Generally, workers who have work authorization to work both at the time that they were working and while they collect benefits may qualify for regular state unemployment benefits and DUA. Individuals who are not U.S. citizens must present documentation supporting their authorization to work in the United States of America, and the State UI agency must verify their status through a government process called Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement Program (SAVE), administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If my naturalization certificate was damaged or destroyed by the wildfire, can I replace it?

File Form N-565 (Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document) available at https://www.uscis.gov/n-565. If you believe you are eligible for a fee waiver of the applicable $555 fee, complete Form I-912 (Request for Fee Waiver) and submit it and any required evidence of your inability to pay the filing fee with the application. You can review the fee waiver guidance at https://www.uscis.gov/feewaiver.

How do I replace my green card if it was damaged or destroyed by the wildfire?

File Form I-90 (Application to Replace Permanent Resident Card) available at https://www.uscis.gov/i-90 online or by mail with the application fee of $540. If you apply for a fee waiver, you may not file online. You can review the fee waiver guidance and Form I-912 at https://www.uscis.gov/feewaiver. While waiting for the new card, once you have the Form I-90 filing receipt, you can request an I-551 stamp from USCIS as legal proof of your lawful permanent resident status. To request an I-551 stamp, schedule an InfoPass appointment with USCIS at https://my.uscis.gov/appointment. An active I-551 stamp is required to travel outside of the United States.

How do I replace my work permit?

You must submit Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) which is available at https://www.uscis.gov/i-765. As with the N-565 and I-90, you may file a Form I-912 fee waiver available at https://www.uscis.gov/feewaiver in connection with the $410 processing fee.  The processing time is 90 days. Also, you need to submit copy of previous work authorization document or approval notice and copy of photo identification and copy of documents evidencing your eligibility, such as asylum approval or I-140 approval notice.

If I had to move because of the wildfires, do I need to let USCIS know?

Under the law, all non-citizens must inform the U.S. government of a change of address.

If you have an application pending or approved by USCIS, you need to file Form AR-11 (Alien’s Change of Address Card) which is available at https://www.uscis.gov/ar-11 or by calling 1-800-870-3676. If you are in immigration court proceedings, you need to file Form EOIR-33/IC (Alien’s Change of Address Form/Immigration Court) which is available at https://www.justice.gov/eoir/list-downloadable-eoir-forms. If you do not have a permanent address as a result of the natural disaster, provide the address of a trusted family member or friend.

I missed my USCIS appointment due to the fire.  What do I do?

During a state or federally declared disaster, the USCIS generally announces that the USCIS San Francisco Field Office would automatically reschedule applicants who missed naturalization (N-400) or adjustment of status (I-485) interviews due to the declared disaster event or related evacuation orders. Check with the USCIS office to determine the status of such rescheduling. The USCIS generally only automatically reschedules appointments that were set to occur during an active evacuation order or road closure impacting the relevant individual.

Anyone who misses an INFOPASS appointment may reschedule the appointment on their own on line at https://my.uscis.gov/appointment, or may go to the office where the appointment was originally scheduled with the appointment notice.  If your appointment is with the Sacramento Field Office, San Jose Field Office, or any other USCIS field or district office, please ensure that you contact the appropriate office to reschedule your appointment.  Please check the USCIS website for updates. If you have any doubt about whether you appointment has been rescheduled, you should contact USCIS as soon as possible to confirm.

San Francisco Field Office:

https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/find-uscis-office/field-offices/california-san-francisco-field-office

Sacramento Field Office:

https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/find-uscis-office/field-offices/california-sacramento-field-office

San Jose Field Office

https://www.uscis.gov/about-us/find-uscis-office/field-offices/california-san-jose-field-office

I had to evacuate, and now can’t go to the doctor or hospital covered under my insurance.  What do I do? 

  • MediCal, Medicaid and private insurance ALL are required to pay for emergency care anywhere you go, even if it is out of network. If you have a medical emergency, get help right away!
  • If you have not yet signed up for MediCal but are eligible, you can apply for it at the hospital, and may even be eligible for retroactive coverage. To learn more about MediCal and Medicaid, call 211.
  • If you are going to be out of your home area for a while, and need non-emergency care, you should contact your insurance carrier to inform them of the situation, and get approval to be seen elsewhere.

Where can I get help with all this?

For information on social services help, call 211.

To get legal help, search for a legal aid provider near you using this link:  https://lawhelpca.org/legal-directory

Or find a local lawyer referral hotline by using this link: https://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Need-Legal-Help/Lawyer-Referral-Service

If the President has declared a disaster with Individual Assistance, then FEMA will open a Local Assistance Center (LAC) in the area affected by the disaster. The LAC will have tables staffed by FEMA, the Red Cross, Legal Aid, and many other groups there to help. To find out if an Individual Assistance Disaster has been declared, go to https://www.fema.gov/disasters.  (If it only says “Fire Management Assistance,” that means the President has not declared Individual Assistance disaster.  That could still happen, but has not happened yet. If the President HAS declared an Individual Assistance disaster, go to https://egateway.fema.gov/ESF6/DRCLocator to find a LAC near you. You can also register with FEMA online at www.disasterassistance.gov 

What is price gouging?

Price gouging refers to vendors and service providers trying to take unfair advantage of consumers during an emergency or disaster by greatly increasing prices for essential consumer goods and services.

Is price gouging illegal in California?

Yes, in certain circumstances. California’s anti-price gouging statute, Penal Code Section 396, prohibits raising the price of many consumer goods and services by more than 10% after an emergency has been declared.

When does California’s anti-price gouging statute apply?

The statute applies immediately after the President of the United States, the Governor of California, or city or county executive officer declares a state of emergency resulting from any natural or manmade disaster, such as a fire.

Who is subject to the statute?

Individuals, businesses, and other entities must all comply with the statute. This also includes landlords.

What goods and services are covered by the statute?

The statute applies to the following major necessities: lodging (including rental housing, hotels and motels); food and drink (including food and drink for animals); emergency supplies such as water, flashlights, radios, batteries, candles, blankets, soaps, diapers, temporary shelters, tape, toiletries, plywood, nails, and hammers; and medical supplies such as prescription and nonprescription medications, bandages, gauze, isopropyl alcohol, and antibacterial products.

It also applies to other goods and services including: home heating oil; construction materials including lumber, tools, and windows; transportation; freight; storage services; gasoline and other motor fuels; and repair and reconstruction services.

How long does the price gouging statute apply?

The statute generally applies for 30 days after a declaration of emergency, although for reconstruction services and emergency cleanup services, it applies for 180 days after a declaration of emergency. The state legislature and local officials may extend the effective period of the statute beyond these timeframes.

What if I experienced price increases outside of the city or county where the disaster occurred?

The statute does not restrict its protection to a city or county where the emergency or disaster is located. It is intended to prevent price gouging anywhere in the state where there is increased consumer demand as a result of the declared emergency. For example, if a fire in Sonoma County causes residents to evacuate to neighboring Marin County, hotels in Marin County may not raise rates by more than 10% to take advantage of the increase in demand for lodging.

What if a seller increased the price of a good or service because the seller’s costs of providing the good or service increased?

If the seller can prove that the increase in price is directly attributable to increases in the cost of labor or materials needed to provide the good or service, the seller may not be liable under the statue.

What are the consequences of violating the statute?

Violations of the price gouging statute are subject to civil penalties and/or criminal prosecution that can result in one-year imprisonment in county jail and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Violations are also subject to civil enforcement actions including civil penalties of up to $5,000 per violation, injunctive relief, and mandatory restitution.

Who should I report price gouging to?

Price gouging that occurs in Sonoma County can be reported to the Attorney General’s Office and/or the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The Attorney General and the District Attorney may, on behalf of the public, investigate or prosecute someone who has engaged in price gouging. Anyone who has been the victim of price gouging, or who has information regarding potential price gouging, is encouraged to immediately file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office or the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. You may also contact our office if you need help addressing a price gouging concern.