2010-02-05 / Columnists

Notes On Consumer Affairs

Commentary By Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer

AUDREY PHEFFER AUDREY PHEFFER Moving into a new home can be an exciting time. However, the process of actually moving your possessions from your old home to your new one can create anxiety, particularly over which moving company, if any, you should hire. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take, and several agencies to assist you, if you decide to hire a moving company.

If you know someone who has recently moved, reach out to see if he or she can recommend a particular mover. Reputable real estate agents may also be able to provide recommendations. Try to find two or three companies. Before contacting them, check their rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB) at www.bbb.org. If you are moving within New York State, you can also check to see if there have been any complaints filed with the state Department of Transportation (DOT), which licenses interstate movers, at www.nysdot.gov. If you are moving to a new state, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees intrastate movers; they can be found on the Internet at www.protectyourmove.gov.

Most reputable moving companies will do a physical inspection of your belongings. If a company quotes you an estimate without having done so or if the estimate is significantly less than what other companies have offered, be cautious. Both the FMSCA and the New York State Attorney General warn that such estimates may be artificially low and that after loading your goods, the mover will often demand more money before delivering and unloading them.

Moving companies give either binding or non-binding estimates. Binding estimates offer a guaranteed price. Under non-binding estimates, the price is not guaranteed and the final total may be higher. This is sometimes determined using an hourly rate. Other times, it is based upon the heaviness of your items combined with the distance traveled. To determine how heavy your items are, the vehicle is weighed before and after your goods are loaded.

The estimate is required to be part of a written Order for Service; this will note the estimated charges for the move and any special services, such as packing, and the pick-up and delivery dates. Before the moving company starts to load your goods, they must provide you with a Bill of Lading. This is a formal contract between you and the mover that both of you must sign. It obligates the mover to provide you with the specified services and obligates you to pay the charges listed. The Bill also serves as your receipt; you should keep it in a safe place until your belongings have been delivered and any disputes between you and the mover have been resolved.

Moving companies are also required under both state and federal regulations to provide you with a brochure informing you of your rights and responsibilities. You should be leery if the mover is reluctant or refuses to provide one. Some of your rights include the right to a written estimate, to request from the mover the availability of guaranteed pickup and delivery dates, to be present each time your shipment is weighed, and to request that it be re-weighed before delivery at no additional cost. However, if the goods weigh more the second time, you must pay based upon that weight. Some of your responsibilities include ensuring that you read and understand the Order for Service and Bill of Lading; if you have any questions, you should ask for clarification before signing.

You should also ask your moving company about its insurance policies. By law, movers are required to have limited liability insurance. However, this limits the mover’s responsibility to sixty cents per pound per item for an interstate move, and thirty cents per pound for a move within New York State. Many movers offer greater levels of protection at an additional cost. You should also check if your homeowner’s insurance company offers insurance during a move and at what cost. In addition, if your employer is paying for the move, he or she may offer additional protections.

Make sure you oversee the movers loading and unloading everything. If anything is lost or damaged, ask for a claim form. You are still obligated to pay for the move in full; however, you should fill out the form and submit it to the company promptly. The company then has 120 days to act on the claim. If you are not satisfied with their response, you may consult with a private attorney, request arbitration through the mover’s dispute resolution program, or file a complaint with the DOT, FMSCA, or the BBB.

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