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The Real Deal Los Angeles

Keller Williams agent charged with price gouging during North Bay wildfires

Melissa Echeverria allegedly doubled the rent on her home following deadly fires
April 23, 2018 12:30PM

The home on Blanca Drive in Novato, California

Play with fire, and you might get burned.

That may have been the case with a Keller Williams luxury agent charged with price gouging.

The California’s attorney general says Melissa Echeverria doubled the rent on a Northern California property she owns shortly after the state’s devastating October wildfires started, Inman reported.

If convicted, the broker faces up to a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, and related penalties for allegedly trying to take advantage of “those who are already suffering,” Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement released last week.

Echeverria owns a 2,600-square-foot home in Novato, California, and advertised it at $5,000 a month before the fires. She raised rent to $9,000 a month four days after the first fires broke out in the surrounding counties, the attorney general’s office said. Over the next few days, she gradually lowered it to $5,800, according to the complaint.

During that time, the North Bay fires forced at least 100,000 people from their homes in surrounding counties and over the course of October, killed 44 people, and injured 185 others. The fires also destroyed nearly 9,000 properties.

Current estimates put the damage at around $9.4 billion, but the eventual economic impact could be many times higher, experts said.

Those fires were followed two months later by a series of devastating fires statewide that did $12 billion worth of damage, including $2 billion in Southern California, where property owners have constructed thousands of homes in fire-prone areas.

Price gouging is raising the cost of an item or service by more than 10 percent following a state or local emergency. Rental housing is including in the law, along with food, medical supplies, and gasoline among others.

On her website, Echeverria describes herself as a luxury specialist. She lists about three-dozen agents on her team. She also runs a concierge and lifestyle management firm for professional athletes. Echeverria’s website lists properties around California including in Bel Air, West Hollywood, and Malibu.

Echeverria told Inman she had no comment. [Inman] — Dennis Lynch