When demand is high and supply is low, prices rise—it’s a basic rule of economics. But suppliers sometimes exploit market conditions to charge consumers prices that are considered unfair or exorbitant. This is called price gouging.

While many economists disagree with members of the public about the validity and ethics of price gouging, the law in the District is clear: The Natural Disaster Consumer Protection Act forbids businesses from charging more than 10 percent of the ordinary retail price for a service and any more than the normal marked-up price for goods during periods of emergency like this weekend’s snowstorm. Violations could cost businesses up to $1,000 and may lead to license and permit suspensions at the discretion of the mayor. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs mainly enforces this law, but the Office of the Attorney General may also investigate alleged price-gouging schemes.

For this past weekend’s storm, OAG had received one report of price gouging as of Wednesday morning: an advisory neighborhood commissioner inquired about a store in their neighborhood that was putting surcharges on all its purchases. OAG is looking into the matter, according to a spokesperson. Examples of price gouging over services could include labor provided by contractors, plumbers, and other repairpeople; goods include food and equipment.

Darrow Montgomery