More than 40 million Americans change residences each year, and a large number of those moves take place in the summer months. If you are preparing to move, it is important to know your rights and responsibilities when hiring a moving company.
Most moving companies are legitimate, reputable businesses, but there are a growing number of complaints against interstate movers who hold their clients’ possessions hostage on their truck, demanding far higher sums than their agreed- upon estimate. There are several key characteristics to look for that will help you avoid running into rogue movers:
- The movers should offer or agree to an onsite inspection. Do not trust estimates done sight-unseen that seem too good to be true. They probably are.
- The company’s Web site should feature a local address and information about their registration and insurance.
- On moving day, you should see a company-owned or marked fleet truck, not a rental.
For interstate moves, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires the company to have a U.S. DOT number. You can double check this registration at www.protectyourmove.gov. For moves within a state, regulations vary. Check with your local consumer affairs agency for more information.
Once you have selected your mover and you feel confident that they are a reputable company, you should understand what their liability is with your belongings. All movers must provide basic liability of $0.60 per pound per article. This protection is provided at no extra cost to you. However, with it, the moving company is liable by weight rather than value. For instance, under this no-cost liability, if the mover loses or destroys a ten-pound object valued at $1,000, they are still only liable for $0.60 multiplied by ten pounds, or $6.00.
You also have the option of Full-Value Protection (FVP), a comprehensive protection plan. Under FVP, if any article is lost, damaged, or destroyed, the mover must repair it, replace it, or pay you the current market value of that item. You will automatically receive this level of protection if you do not waive it in writing. Be warned, your moving company will charge you for this protection, and the cost is a percentage of the total value you place on your shipment. The more value you assign to your property, the more it will cost to secure FVP.
As a third option, some movers may also offer separate liability insurance through a third-party insurance company. If you choose to purchase this extra liability insurance through your mover, the mover is required to issue a policy or other written record of it at the time of purchase. Without such documentation, the mover is liable for any loss or damage caused by its negligence.
There are some actions that will limit or reduce the mover’s normal liability. These actions include the inclusion of perishable, dangerous, or hazardous materials without your mover’s knowledge and the failure to notify the mover in writing of articles valued at more than $100 per pound (for instance, jewelry, silverware, china, furs, computer software, etc). Additionally, many movers will refuse to accept liability for damages caused to articles they did not pack. As a result, you may want to consider allowing the movers to pack your more valuable items to assure they will be covered.
Some homeowners’ and/or renters’ insurance policies cover damage or loss sustained during moves. Check the details of your policy before making a decision about liability insurance or FVP for your move. To protect yourself in an unforeseen dispute, be sure to receive a bill of lading from your mover. The bill of lading is the contract between you and the mover. Legally, the mover must prepare one for every shipment it transports. The moving company representatives who load your belongings onto the truck should give you a copy before or at the time of the loading. Read the bill of lading before you accept it. Do not sign it until you fully understand and accept what it says, and take care to have it available until your shipment is delivered, paid for, and any claims are settled.
When arriving at your new home, your mover will expect you to sign a receipt for your shipment. This receipt should indicate that you have received the materials. It may not contain any language releasing the company or its agents from liability. If any such language is present, strike it out before signing.
If your move results in loss or damage to any of your property, you have the right to file a claim to recover money. File the claim as soon as possible. If your claim is not settled to your satisfaction, you may use arbitration to settle it. Every mover must participate in an arbitration program, and movers are required to provide information about their arbitration program prior to moving day. If you cannot settle a claim, and arbitration fails, or you choose not to go to arbitration, you may file a civil action. Your lawyer can help you determine if this would be an appropriate course of action.