CONSUMER ADVISORY: MOVING? THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW

May is National Moving Month, acknowledging our mobile society and recognizing that the end of the school year means moves not only for recent college grads but also for families taking advantage of the warmer weather to search for a new home.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation has gathered some information to help you consider steps to take in figuring out the best options for moving, and to alert you to some things you may not know about your rights when you move:

Choose a mover:  One of the best ways to select a mover is to talk with friends or neighbors who have recently moved.  Ask for recommendations, and check online for possible complaints.  Don’t simply trust the mover’s website, since it is likely to emphasize the positive reports while downplaying or eliminating criticism.  Online review websites are likely to have more information.  Check with the agency overseeing the company for complaints; also check with the Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau to get a better view of the company’s reputation.  Go to the business location of the mover if you can, to see the condition of the facility and the vehicles used for moving.

Get estimates:  Ask prospective movers for estimates.  If you are moving across state lines, interstate movers are required to do a physical survey of your goods if the location that you are moving from is located within a 50 mile radius of your mover’s (or its agent’s) place of business.  For interstate moves, the mover is required to give you an estimate in writing, and you are entitled to a copy of it.  The mover must provide you a written estimate of all charges, including transportation, “accessorial,” and advance charges. “Accessorial” charges are for services such as packing, appliance servicing, unpacking, or piano stair carries that you request to be performed (or that are necessary because of landlord requirements or other special circumstances). Charges for these services may be in addition to the line-haul charges.  The mover’s “rate quote” is not an acceptable estimate. You and your mover must sign the estimate of charges, and the mover must provide you with a dated copy of the estimate of charges at the time of signature.

Who packs the goods?  Will your packing them affect whether they are insured against loss or damage?  This question applies whether you use a mover or an alternative. Be sure to ask, if you intend to pack some of the items yourself.

These federal requirements for interstate moves can also serve as a useful guide for you when talking over the move with prospective moving companies for an in-state move.  Although the federal law requirements do not apply to in-state moves, it is still a good idea to have the mover look over your goods before providing an estimate, to avoid surprises on pricing and the mover’s ability to transport goods from and to your intended destination. 

Carefully read the Bill of Lading:  While state law does not require a written estimate, movers are required to prepare a “Bill of Lading” for every move, which details the goods carried and serves as your contract.  Both parties must sign it, and the mover must give you a copy before loading your goods into the van or truck.  Make sure the bill of lading contains the mover’s name, address, license number and telephone number, as well as your contact information so the mover can get in touch with you.  It should also include the loading and delivery dates, the declared or released value of the goods, and any storage instructions.  Be sure to read and keep the Bill of Lading until your move is complete.

Consider moving insurance:  Federal law provides for two types of moving insurance: released value and full value protection.  Full value protection covers the replacement value of lost or damaged goods in your entire shipment.  It comes at an additional fee, and your mover can limit its liability for items of “extraordinary” value (things valued at more than $100 per pound). Released value policy is often included in the cost of shipping, but covers goods at only 60 cents a pound.  With released value insurance, whether the goods are bricks or expensive stereo equipment, you are only reimbursed 60 cents a pound for lost or damaged goods.  For in-state moves, movers licensed by DPU are required to carry a minimum amount of cargo insurance, but your ability to recover for loss or damage is dependent on your agreement with the mover.  While many movers offer either released value or full value coverage, always double check the coverage for your move, as the mover is not required to provide either coverage under state law.

Think about moving alternatives:  “Pods” are becoming more popular with college students or other individuals who need to temporarily store their items before, during or after a move.  With pods, your goods are put in a container that is parked on the street or in a parking lot and loaded onto a transfer truck.  Some pod companies offer storage, on your site or theirs, so you can move at your own pace, move only some goods to a site, or help you meet the right deadlines for a lease.  A pod can be more convenient since you won’t need to wait for others’ goods to be taken off a truck and moved first if you are not moving a full load.

More helpful tips:  Under federal law, interstate movers are required to give you a booklet entitled Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move, and Ready to Move?  Tips for a Successful Interstate Move.   Both are available at:  https://www.protectyourmove.gov/  The guides offer useful pointers for you to consider when planning your move, even if the move is in-state.

Do you want to move by yourself?  Compare pricing and vehicles for self-moving companies. Check the availability of boxes, packing material and moving blankets.  Most national self-moving companies will rent or sell you containers and moving materials.  Some may even be included with your vehicle rental, so factor that in when comparing prices.  Make sure you understand the hours that you have the truck rented for, and the date and time of the vehicle’s return. There may be a fee for mileage as well as a daily fee. If you are responsible for fuel costs, be sure to fill up before you return the vehicle so you do not have to pay the higher prices that the company may charge you if they re-fuel.  Finally, make sure that you can physically lift and move all your boxes and furniture.  If not, rent or buy a dolly to make moving easier, and secure heavy goods to the dolly so they don’t slide off as you shift them. 

In-state moves 

If you are moving household goods from one point in Massachusetts to another, the agency that oversees your mover is the Transportation Division of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (“DPU”).  Your mover must be licensed by the DPU, and must file its rates with the agency annually. 

You can check for licenses on the agency’s web site:  http://www.env.state.ma.us/DPU_FileRoom/frmTransportationSP.aspx

You can also request a copy of the mover’s rates on file with the agency. 

Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities
Transportation Oversight Division
1 South Station
Boston MA 02110
617-305-3559
www.mass.gov/dpu/transportation

Moving across state lines

If you are moving into or out of Massachusetts, the agency that oversees your mover is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMSCA”). 

You can check on a mover’s registration at:  https://www.protectyourmove.gov/ or by calling FMCSA at (202) 366-9805 or at 888-368-7238.  You can also find complaints about interstate movers online at: http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/hhg/search.asp

Other useful resources
Trade associations may be able to offer you further guidance.

Massachusetts Movers Association
c/oLynch Associates
10 Liberty Sq., 5th Floor
Boston, MA 02109
617-574-9939

http://massmovers.org/

You may also want to consider the American Moving and Storage Association at:

American Moving and Storage Association
1611 Duke Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel (888) 849-AMSA (2672) | Fax (703) 683-7527

http://www.moving.org/index.asp