2003-12-12 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer
Notes On Consumer Affairs By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

Audrey PhefferAudrey Pheffer

Billy Joel made it sound easy to pick-up your belongings in his song "Movin’ Out." However, there is more to think about when moving than just "movin’ out." There are both federal and state statutes that regulate the moving industry. Prior to hiring a moving company, find out if the mover is licensed by the state Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) for moves completely within New York, and by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for moves between New York and another state.

Moving is a daunting task. Not only are you concerned with properly packing and safeguarding your items against the jarring nature of moving, you also want to feel secure in your choice of mover. Although many people hope for the best and hire the mover who offers the cheapest rate, that choice may cost them the most in the end. Unlicensed movers may offer cheaper rates, but licensed movers are required to meet insurance, safety and financial standards. Ultimately, the few extra dollars spent for a mover may save much aggravation, time and replacement costs for broken and lost items.

Before you hire a mover, get estimates from different moving companies. These estimates should be based on a physical inspection of your home. Estimates will enable you to figure out what you will be paying to move. If one mover’s estimate is substantially lower than the rest, be wary. It could be indicative of a "lowball" bid that will increase at the time of your move. There are generally two types that are offered: binding estimates of the total cost and non-binding estimates of approximate cost.

The binding estimate must describe the shipment and all the services that will be provided. You will not be required to pay more than that estimate unless you requested more services than those included in the estimate (i.e. destination charges, long carry charges, shuttle charges, extra stair carry charges or elevator charges). Often, the mover does not know these charges prior to the move. The binding estimate will only be effective if it is in writing and a copy is made available to you before your move.

The non-binding estimate is an approximate cost of the move. It is used to give you a general idea of the cost of the move; however, it does not bind the moving company to this estimate. This estimate may have no bearing on the actual cost of the move. The non-binding estimate must be in writing and clearly describe the shipment and all services provided.

When you decide on a moving company, they are required to prepare an order of service. This is not a contract, rather it describes the probable costs associated with your move and how much you will have to pay to have your property unloaded if the actual cost exceeds the estimate. The contract between you and the mover is the bill of landing. You should understand the terms of the bill of landing before signing it. Terms like whether the cost is based on the time it takes to move, the weight of your items, or if it is a fixed rate should be agreed on and understood.

Never sign a contract that has blank sections to be filled in later.

If you encounter any problems after the move and have a complaint, try to resolve it with the mover. You should file any complaint in writing with the mover and it should be done promptly after the move. If your efforts are not satisfactory, you can file a complaint with the NYSDOT at 1-800-786-5368. You are also able to check out the mover prior to signing a contract by calling that number.

The information provided here is general information you should know when you are moving.

For more comprehensive information, visit the New York State Con­sumer Protection Board website and look under the Consumer Law Help Manual for "Movers." When moving across state lines, contact the U.S. department of Transportation, Fed­eral Motor Car­riers Safety Adminis­tration (FMCSA). If you experience a problem with your mover, you can file a complaint by calling FMCSA’s 24-hour toll-free hotline (888-368-7238) or online at http://www.1-888-dot-saft.com/.

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