COLUMBIA, S.C. — President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency Friday and Gov. Henry McMaster’s declaration of a state of emergency mean that South Carolina’s law against price gouging is now in effect. Either declaration would have put the state’s law in effect.
State law (SC §39-5-145) says that it is unlawful to “rent or sell or offer to rent or sell a commodity at an unconscionable price.” The law remains in effect until the declaration expires or is terminated.
It’s important to keep in mind that normal changes in the prices of goods and services are not considered price gouging. The law says, “A price increase that reflects the usual and customary seasonal fluctuation in the price of the subject essential commodity or the rental or lease of a dwelling unit or self-storage facility is not a violation of this section.” Normal fluctuations in the market based on supply and demand are also not price gouging.
Attorney General Alan Wilson said, “We can expect normal price increases, but we may see businesses and individuals looking to unfairly take advantage of the situation through price gouging of things like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and other commodities as defined by the statute. By our law, that’s a criminal violation and an unfair trade practice,” Wilson said. “We wish to emphasize, as we have seen in the past, that price gouging under the current law is difficult to prove, even substantial price increases. What might seem large to the public may not be illegal in court.”
If you feel like you are the victim of price gouging there are certain steps that you can take to help our office investigate. Please do the following:
- Note the time, place, address, and name of the business
- Note the price you paid
- Note any prices nearby and get the same information on those businesses
- Take pictures that identify the business, along with the price
- Provide your name and contact information
Our office will need that information in order to conduct a thorough investigation. Please email any examples or documentation to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 803-737-3953 and leave a message if you have witnessed a likely violation.
Anyone found to have violated the state’s price gouging law is guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, must be punished by a fine of up to $1,000, up to 30 days in jail, or both.