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#344 Comsumer Rights: Movers

mp3 #344 Moving Household Goods - What Are Your Rights? (mp3 file)



On the average, Americans move once every five years and the question is, what should you do if you're planning on moving?

If at all possible, you can try to do the move on your own. Of course, you have to have the energy, strength, and people to help, but this is one way of cutting costs substantially, and also of making sure that your possessions receive the care they warrant. You will have the sense of security of knowing your goods will never be out of your sight.

Let’s say, though, that you don’t want to or can’t do the move yourself. The following points deal with what you should do before, during, and after the move. While there are differences between intrastate moves (moves within California) and interstate moves (to or from California to another state), much of the general information is the same for both.

There is no sure-fire way of picking a moving company. You can do the following, however:

1. Ask your friends if they can recommend a moving company. Make sure, though, that they, rather than their employer paid for the move. Movers tend to be more accommodating to businesses than to individuals, because companies are more likely to provide repeat business.

2. On interstate moves, the moving company's salesperson is required to give you a copy of the company's performance report for the previous year. The report includes much useful information, such as the percentage of shipments picked up late, as well as the average amount of time to settle a claim. These reports often put the company's performance record in the best possible light.

3. Make sure that you get a written estimate. Estimates, along with claims for damages, are the two most frequent causes of problems with moving companies. Verbal estimates are not binding, and the regulations prohibit them from being given over the phone. There are numerous cases of consumers being told that their move will cost one figure -- and instead, the move costs two, three, four, or five times as much. Since moving companies deliver C.O.D. unless credit has been arranged, you have to have the money ready to get the goods off the truck. If you can't cough up the money, it's no furniture for you. Your goods will be put in storage, and you will be billed for warehouse charges, as well as for moving your goods out of storage.

Getting written estimates can at least partially help to avoid these problems. You should make sure you show the salesperson everything you intend to move. On interstate moves, the cost is mainly based on the weight of your goods and distance you intend to travel. On intrastate moves, you are either charged by an hourly rate on moves under 100 miles, or by distance and weight for moves over 100 miles. These rates cover loading, transportation and unloading only.

Make sure your estimate includes the costs for additional services such as packing and unpacking, cartons, and elevators. You can then compare any differences in companies' rates.

Moves within California are called intrastate moves. In California, the Public Utilities Commission (or PUC), which oversees intrastate moves, gives the consumer some good protection against inaccurate estimates. For instance, all rates and charges are subject to PUC-set maximums. Normally, movers will not exceed these maximums - actually, most movers charge less. However, there may be circumstances under which a mover must issue you a written estimate of total costs (no less than three days prior to moving day), indicating that maximum rates will be exceeded on the move and obtain your consent to the rates to be charged. If these procedures are not followed, the mover may not exceed PUC maximum rates.

Before your move begins, the mover must inform you of a "Not to Exceed Price" for your move and cannot charge you more than that price unless you add items or request additional services not previously included in your Agreement. This "Not to Exceed Price" must be written on the Agreement along with any minimum fees that may apply and specific details of the move.

On distance and hourly moves , if you have a written estimate you do not have to pay more than the amount of the estimate, which should be the "Not to Exceed Price" written in the estimate, plus any charges on the addendum. Items or services not originally included in the estimate are put on an addendum, and you must pay the additional cost.

So, if the written estimate on your goods is much too low, you do not have to pay for the actual weight or time. Some companies try to avoid these binding estimates by refusing to come out to give a written estimate. If you contact such a company, simply hang up and keep phoning until you find somebody who will come out. If a company advertises that it gives written estimates, it must do so.

In an attempt to avoid giving written estimates, some companies will send you a self-estimator and suggest that you estimate the cost of the move yourself. However, these are not estimates. You will not be protected by the new estimating rules, and if the move costs more than you estimated, you will probably be asked to pay the additional amount or your goods will not be delivered.

Next we will discuss interstate moves. On interstate moves, written estimates are not always binding. A non-binding estimate is not a contract. It is provided by the mover to give you a general idea of the cost of the move, but does not bind the mover to the estimated cost. Non-binding estimates can, though, afford you some protection because when the delivery van unloads your goods, you are not required to pay more than the estimate plus 10%. You then have at least 30 days to come up with the rest of the payment. If you contest any of the charges on the move, you can try withholding additional payment, although naturally the company can take you to court and you will have to defend your actions.

If you are requesting an estimate for an interstate move, a company has to give you one. You should get estimates from at least three companies, but do not simply pick the one which gives you the lowest estimate. In fact, if the estimate seems unusually low, the salesperson could well be trying to "lowball" you, and you should show him to the door. Salespeople usually work on commission and they may want to entice you to move with their company by quoting you a very low estimate price, even though they know that in the long run your move will cost much more. If the contract is non-binding, the mover is not permitted to charge for giving an estimate.

Before you move, you should receive an order for service which will not only include the estimated cost of the move, but the agreed pickup and delivery date or period of time. If the mover is not able to fulfill his time obligation (another fairly common problem), he has to contact you at his expense. You have a right to file a claim against a carrier if you experience additional expenses because of any delays. Save your receipts and submit copies of them to the company when it sends claim forms for reimbursement.

Here are some other steps you can take to ensure a smoother, more economical move:

-Make sure you visit the websites of both the PUC at www.cpuc.ca.gov and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an affiliate of the U.S. Department of Transportation) at www.fmcsa.dot.gov to access their collection of consumer "self-help" pamphlets on moving companies and your rights. You should get this information well in advance of your move so that you have time to study it. These pamphlets include important information regarding your rights, so go over them carefully.

-If you use advertising to find names of companies for an intrastate move, you should know that licensed moving companies are now requested to use the identification number (known as a "T" number) issued to them by the PUC in all their ads and in the yellow pages of the phone book.

-If at all possible, try not to move in the summer which is when three-quarters of all moves are made. If you have to move then, try not to move at the beginning or end of the month, or on weekends. The busier the moving companies are, the greater the chance you will have problems. In addition, rates are usually higher on weekends.

-If possible, once you have narrowed your selection to several companies, go look at the place where they do business. If you're satisfied with what you see, then ask that they come to your residence and give you an estimate.

-Try to get estimates at least six to eight weeks in advance, and pick the moving company one month in advance. By doing so you will have a better chance of getting the moving dates you want.

-Watch out for "minimum charges" which are the least amount of money the company will charge for the job. Carriers are required to state these minimum charges on the shipping document.

-Discard all possessions that are old and that you never use. This is a good time for a garage sale, and it will help you cut costs by keeping down the weight of your load.

-Ship items like books through the mail. They are heavy, and book rate is much cheaper.

-Take valuables, like important papers -and jewelry, in the car with you. If you are making a local move, take as much as you can in the car yourself each time you make a trip to your new home.

-Pack as much as you can yourself, and then make a general inventory of what you have put in each box. Do have the movers pack easily breakable items, however, because then they are responsible for the damages. If you do the packing yourself, the movers are only responsible if the boxes are damaged from the outside. You can buy boxes from the moving company, but it is cheaper to get your own from some place like the market.

-Be sure the carrier lists all antiques or other items of value and shows the value on the inventory or shipping documents; otherwise, you will have no protection against loss or damage.

-Label boxes so that you know what room to put them in when you are unloading - you will save yourself some time.

-Plan to be home all day. The movers may not arrive on schedule but you may have to pay a waiting delay charge if you make them wait longer than one hour.

-On long distance moves, take some survival goods along with you so you can set up housekeeping in your new home before your possessions arrive. You will avoid having to eat out and will save yourself some money.

-Keep a record of all your moving costs. Many are tax deductible if the move is in connection with your job.

-Avoid putting your goods in storage during transit. You should have a destination at the other end. To get your belongings out of storage will cost you the equivalent of an additional move.

Be sure to get sufficient valuation protection - you have several options from which to choose. Without additional cost, your goods are covered at a value of 60¢ per pound per article. However, you must write in the value of 60¢ per pound per article on your bill of lading to avoid a valuation charge, and this coverage rarely is sufficient.

Let's say you are moving 2000 pounds of goods with a value of approximately $3000. The 60¢ per pound coverage will only cover you for 2000 pounds times 60¢ or $1200. You therefore potentially could lose $1800 if something happened to your entire shipment. Or let's say a lamp weighing ten pounds was broken in transit. You would only be reimbursed $6 (10 pounds times 60¢) - no matter how much the lamp actually cost.

If you want to be paid full value for the cost of your damaged items, you can do so in two ways by paying an extra charge. If you don't declare a lump sum value of your goods or 60¢ per pound per article, the mover's maximum liability is automatically set at $1.25 times the weight of your shipment in pounds on distance moves, or $2500 on local hourly moves. Thus, on a distance move, if your shipment weighs 3,000 pounds, your lump sum valuation will be $3,750 ($1.25 times 3000 pounds). This additional coverage will cost you $5 per $1000 or $18.75 for the $3,750.

Or you may enter a lump sum valuation which you consider adequate to cover your shipment. In this case, if you covered your shipment for $3,000, you would pay $5 per $1000, or $15.

In addition to remembering to turn off the utilities, send your change of address cards, and say good-bye to old friends, you will have to pay attention to the following:

The weighing of all your goods.

On interstate moves, the weighing of your goods is very important since you must pay on the actual weight of your goods. ICC regulations require the moving company to tell you where your goods are being weighed, and you should find out from the moving company when the weighing will take place. You should then go to the scales to watch the weighing. You should watch the truck first being weighed without your goods, and then again later after it is loaded.

Make sure you are given a weight ticket at the scales, and that the weight of the truck is entered on your bill of lading. Also make sure that the truck's gas tank is filled, and that the truck is weighed with only the driver. While watching the weighing may seem inconvenient, you should make every effort to do so. Unfortunately, cases exist where the moving company has tried to make the consumer's load seem heavier than it actually is.

 

Have your goods reweighed if you have any doubts that you were given an accurate figure. A reweigh usually costs around $20 or more and, on interstate moves, has to be made if you request it.

You do not have to pay for the reweigh if the difference between the first and second weighing is 100 pounds (on shipments of 5,000 pounds or less) or is less than two percent of the lower net weight (on shipments over 5,000 pounds). You must be charged for the lower of the two weights.

The inventory:

At the time the movers pick up your goods, they will list all of your possessions on an inventory. On interstate moves, notations will be made next to each item, describing the condition of the goods ("Ch" for chipped, "F" for faded and so on). Check these notations, because somehow most goods, even if they were purchased just a few days earlier, are either "Ch", "F", or some similar flaw. The movers are responsible for delivering your goods to you in the condition they were picked up, and these people seem to have very keen eyes and esthetic sense because rarely are items "ok." If you dispute any of the notations, make your comments on the inventory.

Along with estimates, claims present the greatest problems for consumers. You and the moving company may not always see eye to eye regarding your claim. When your goods are delivered, keep in mind:

1. You will need either cash or a certified check to pay at the time of delivery, unless the mover aggress before you more to extend credit or accept payment by credit card. Moving companies rarely accept personal checks.

2. If your non-binding estimate, interstate move is going to cost more than 10% over the estimate, you don't need to pay the additional charge at the time of delivery. You have at least 30 days, and you can use that time to check your goods more carefully. Moving companies sometimes are more receptive to your concerns once you have your goods, but still owe them money.

3. When your goods are delivered, check them as carefully as possible. Mark on the inventory any damaged or missing goods. Although it is still possible to make a claim about damages not mentioned on the inventory, it becomes more difficult.

Try to file a claim as quickly as possible, because again, the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to prove the moving company rather than you caused the damage. You have 9 months to file a claim. The moving company has 30 days to acknowledge receipt of your claim in writing; and must pay, decline to pay, or make a settlement within 60 days of receipt of your claim. If it has not settled your claim after the 60 days have passed, it has to notify you every following 30 days of the status of your claim. If the moving company fails to respond to your claim within these time limits, contact the PUC immediately at 1-800-366-4782.

If you find that a moving company is unresponsive to your concerns, you can try seeking additional help from the following:

-The Public Utilities Commission handles complaints concerning intrastate moves, while the Department of Transportation deals with moves from out-of-state. These two agencies usually only have the power to mediate a complaint, although they can fine or censure moving companies who violate their regulations.

Check for the address or phone number of your nearest PUC Office, and inform it of your complaints on California moves. Offices are located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Downey, El Centro, El Monte, Eureka, Fresno, Oakland, Redding, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Bruno, San Diego, San Jose, Santa Ana, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, Stockton, and Van Nuys.

-Or you can call the Consumer Affairs Branch of the Public Utilities Commission in the San Francisco area at area code 415, 703-1402 or in the Los Angeles area at area code 213, 576-7000. The PUC also can give you the name of the moving company's insurance company, and you can file your claim directly with the insurance carrier. The toll-free number to the PUC is 1-800-366-4782 and they are online at www.cpuc.ca.gov

-The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an affiliate of the Department of Transportation) has a toll-free consumer complaint hotline at 1-888-368- 7238 and are online at www.fmcsa.dot.gov

-The California Moving and Storage Association, the state's moving industry organization, also will attempt to mediate complaints, primarily for intrastate moves. The organization is trying to improve the image of the moving industry, but it does not really have any power to resolve disputes. If you have a complaint, call: California Moving and Storage Association 4281 Katella Avenue, Suite 205, Los Alamitos, California 90720. Telephone number – area code 714, 236-2060 or toll-free at 1-800-672-1415. They are also available online at www.thecmsa.org

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