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Reports of price-gouging, as Porter Ranch families look for temporary homes

This photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016 shows a neighborhood in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak from a Southern California Gas Co. storage facility located in the mountains in the background. California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over a massive natural-gas leak that has been spewing methane and other gases into a Los Angeles neighborhood for months, sickening residents and forcing thousands to evacuate. (AP Photo/Brian Melley)
Brian Melley/AP
A neighborhood in the Porter Ranch section of Los Angeles where residents have moved out because of a natural gas leak. Rental houses in neighboring communities are going for double or triple what they would have before the disaster, according to real estate brokers.

Thousands of families fleeing the Porter Ranch gas leak for temporary homes have got new problems: a low housing supply and sky-high rents.

Some landlords in nearby Woodland Hills and Northridge have jacked up rents since the gas leak was discovered in late October in Aliso Canyon. One 4-bedroom home in Northridge is advertised on Craigslist for $8,500-a-month as a 'Huge Estate House Available, Perfect for Families Affected by Gas Leak.'

Allen Brodetsky, president of Boutique Realty in Tarzana, said "where rental prices would normally go between $3,000 and $4,000, now landlords are asking six, seven, eight, nine thousand dollars— double, triple the rent of what it should be."

Brodetsky said that the rental market around Porter Ranch has gotten so hot, that some homesellers, including a neighbor of his, have taken their houses off the market and turn them into short-term rentals. 

There are rules against overcharging for housing and other goods and services in a disaster area. For example, state law bars landlords from hiking rents by more than 10 percent after a declaration of emergency, which Gov. Brown made on Wednesday. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also declared a state of emergency in December, under which similar restrictions on rent increases also take effect.

The state Attorney General’s office said it could not confirm that it’s received any complaints of price-gouging around Porter Ranch because they are kept confidential.  But the office urged residents who feel they are being overcharged to file complaints by going to the Attorney General's website or by calling 1-800-952-5225.

Real estate broker Mel Stewart of Rodeo Realty in Northridge said price-gouging by landlords has been rampant for months. He said fellow brokers told him about a property where the landlord waited with his agent as would-be renters descended.

"The landlord and their agent are standing there basically auctioning to the highest bidder," Stewart said.

One and two-bedroom apartments can be found in the area for under $2,000. But many Porter Ranch households have children and are used to the larger homes commonplace in their planned community, Stewart said.

Stewart is helping some families look for rentals and said getting price-gouged hasn't been a top concern.

"For the most part, they want to get out of these hotels and they're stating, 'Well, I’m not breaking the law but the landlord is," Stewart said.
Besides, they are not paying the bulk of the rent. Southern California Gas Company is picking up much of the relocation fees, paying out thousands of dollars to each family that has been affected.