Moving can be one of the most stressful times in a person's life. You have to keep track of so many things. The moving company that is handling all of your worldly possessions has a number of guidelines and procedures to follow when providing you with this service. Knowing in advance what the proper procedures are that the moving company must follow once the mover agrees to ship your possessions, and what remedies are available to you if the mover mishandles them, can help reduce some of the stress of moving.
Moving companies, also referred to as household goods carriers, are regulated under federal law by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 (49 U.S.C. 501 et. seq.) as it has been amended and revised to address present-day issues. The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) now regulates movers and the guidelines that movers must follow in their dealings with consumers.
Prior to agreeing to move your household goods, a mover must supply you, the prospective customer, with a pamphlet entitled "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." This booklet provides a concise, easy-to-read summary of:
Once you have decided to use the services of a particular moving company, the mover must provide you with additional information and follow certain procedures.
Estimates of Charges
A mover can provide an estimate of what it will cost to move your possessions in one of two ways:
Example: Harry and Ethel receive a non-binding estimate from Best Movers Ever to move their household goods from their home in Spatula, NH to their new home in Perpetual Sunshine City, FL. Best Movers Ever's estimate is made after its representative visits Harry and Ethel's house and inventories their goods. The estimate is for $2000.
When they get to Florida, Harry and Ethel are told that the actual cost of the move will be $3500, and unless they pay the entire amount immediately, and in cash, their belongings will not be delivered. This is a "hostage goods" situation.
Because Harry and Ethel are familiar with the 110% Rule, they pay the Best Movers Ever representative $2200 and demand that their shipment be delivered. They decide that they are going to dispute the additional charges and contact the FMCSA to find out how to do that.
Note: In some cases, the final bill may exceed the amount of the non-binding estimate.
The Bill of Lading
The moving company is required to keep a copy of the estimate, whichever kind it is, attached to the shipping contract, called the bill of lading. The bill of lading also acts as a receipt for the items you are shipping. It will cover the terms and conditions of the shipping contract. The mover is required to provide you with a complete copy of the bill of lading before any of your household goods are loaded onto the truck for shipment.
The bill of lading must include the following:
In addition, once the moving company arrives to load your household goods, the following information is added to the bill of lading:
A copy of the bill of lading must accompany the shipment at all times that the shipment is in the possession of the mover. When the shipment is on truck transporting your possessions, the bill of lading should be in the possession of the driver.
Determination of Weights
When a mover is transporting goods on a non-binding estimate, the mover is required to determine the weight of the shipment to be transported before calculating any of the charges that are based on the shipping weight.
You have the right to observe the weighing of your shipment. The moving company must notify you of the date, time and location of the weighing, and must give you reasonable opportunity to be present to observe the weighing. If you choose not to observe the weighing, your rights are not affected in any way.
Example: Harry and Ethel contact the Best Movers Ever moving company about moving their household goods to their new home. Stanley, from the Best Movers Ever moving company, gives Harry and Ethel a non-binding estimate for moving their possessions, telling them what he estimates the weight to be in his expert opinion. When Harry and Ethel receive the final bill when they get to their new home, they discover that Stanley underestimated the weight of their possessions by several thousand pounds.
Notification of Charges
If you are shipping your household goods under a binding estimate, you can request the moving company give you the actual weight and actual charges for your shipment. You will need to provide the moving company with an address or telephone number where you can be reached at your final destination so the information can be given to you once the weight and charges have been determined. You must receive this information from the moving company within one full 24-hour day (excluding weekends and holidays) prior to delivery of the shipment. The 24-hour notice requirement does not apply to shipments which are to be back-weighed, or a shipment that will be picked up and delivered within two consecutive days. The 24-hour notice does not apply when you have been given a non-binding estimate when only 110% of the final bill is due upon delivery.
Mover's Liability And Complaints
Federal regulations prohibit any moving company from making statements or claims which would imply that the company has limited its liability for lost, stolen or damaged goods under the terms of the shipping contract or bill of lading (the shipping contract may, however, contain a statement that the property has been received in apparent good condition, to be checked off after delivery). Furthermore, every moving company is required by federal law to establish and maintain procedures for handling consumer complaints and inquiries, including providing a telephone number for the company's main office for consumers to call.
The liability of any interstate carrier (that is, a mover who crosses state lines to deliver your shipment) is based on the actual value of the goods lost or damaged in transit. The amount of liability is calculated by the consumer and the mover prior to the move, and recorded in the bill of lading. This way, both you and the mover are protected in the event that goods are lost or damaged, and the mover knows in advance what the value of that liability is. Unusually valuable goods (like antiques or art) can be valued separately. If part or all of a shipment is lost, damaged or stolen, the consumer may want to hire a private attorney to pursue a claim.
Note: The value agreed upon with your mover is the amount the mover will be liable for, and is not insurance. In order to obtain payment under this agreement, you may need to sue your mover in court.
Arbitration is a less formal method of resolving disputes and is available for the consumer. Movers are required to let their potential customers know about the availability of arbitration in the event of a dispute before any contracts are signed. As mentioned above, under Initial Disclosures, this information is provided in the pamphlet entitled "Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move." The pamphlet gives a concise, easy-to-read, accurate summary of the process. Also, any costs to the consumer for choosing this way of resolving a dispute with the mover are outlined. Finally, an overview of the legal effects of choosing arbitration is provided.
If a moving company engages in substandard or misleading practices (such as giving an artificially low estimate to get you to use that company, and then charging double the estimate once the job is completed), or the moving company misrepresented the services provided, you may be able to turn to New Hampshire's Consumer Protection Act for help. If you feel you have been mistreated by a moving company through either of the practices just described, contact the Consumer Protection Bureau, so that the Bureau can track these claims and investigate companies which are consistently misleading consumers.
Moving companies often sell additional insurance coverage to their customers to cover losses and damages that exceed the liability limits agreed to in the shipping contract. The liability limits set in the bill of lading is not the same as this additional insurance coverage. The additional coverage is purely optional for the consumer.
If a moving company does sell insurance to a consumer, the following must be provided:
Failure to issue appropriate evidence of the purchased insurance purchased exposes the moving company to full liability for any claims regarding losses or damages caused by the moving company.
Points To Remember
Where To Go If You Have A Problem
If you have a problem with a moving company, contact the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration. This agency maintains a hot-line for consumer complaints of all kinds related to movers. If your moving company demands that you pay more than 110% of the estimated cost to move in order to obtain delivery of your goods, call the Motor Carriers Safety Administration to report the company's actions You can also download information and complaint forms from the agency's Web site:
Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration
1-888-DOT-SAFT or 1-888-368-7238 (toll-free)
If you think that your moving company engaged in unfair or deceptive practices, contact the Consumer Protection & Antitrust Bureau of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office:
NH Consumer Protection & Antitrust Bureau
33 Capitol Street
Concord, NH 03301-6397
The Better Business Bureau also has a dispute resolution system for complaints against movers and storage companies.
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New Hampshire Department of Justice | 33 Capitol Street | Concord, NH | 03301