With moving season right around the corner, predatory moving companies will be out looking to make a fast buck – or a few thousand bucks – off unsuspecting California consumers.
The California Bureau of Household Goods and Services (BHGS) regulates household movers performing moves of household goods and personal effects over any public highway in the state. If you have a problem with a household moving company, BHGS may be able to help.
But the best way to avoid becoming a victim of moving fraud is to be an informed consumer on the front end. Check to make sure the company is licensed by BHGS, and do your research before signing any contract or handing over money.
Here are some red flags to look out for when selecting a household moving company.
The mover doesn’t visually inspect your goods before giving an estimate. “A moving company may provide you with an estimate in writing only after they conduct a visual inspection of the items you need moved,” says BHGS chief Nicholas Oliver. “Unscrupulous movers often quote below market prices, then demand additional money once your goods are loaded in the moving truck or are being transported.” A good estimator will ask specific questions about the goods you intend to move, inspect the inside of cabinets and closets, and take measurements.
The mover does not provide a written estimate or says they will determine the charges after loading. A moving company must provide a “Not to Exceed” price for all household moves. This is the maximum amount you can be charged unless you request additional services and those changes are then detailed in a “Change Order for Moving Services.” A Change Order cannot be used simply because a mover underestimated costs. Pay close attention to these documents because, if a fee dispute arises, the moving company may demand that you pay the cost quoted on these documents before releasing your goods.
The moving company demands cash or a large deposit before the move. Reputable movers will not demand cash or a large deposit. Generally, you pay when your goods are delivered. If you pay up front, you won’t have any leverage in the event of a dispute with the moving company.
The moving company asks you to sign a blank or incomplete contract. This should be common sense, but never sign a blank or incomplete contract. Get copies of any document you sign, including the “Not to Exceed” price. Make sure additional fees are clearly stated in the terms (for instance, if you are moving to a narrow street that can’t accommodate a large moving truck, or a top-floor apartment in a building with no elevator, additional fees may be included).
When you call the mover, the telephone is answered with a generic “Movers” or “Moving company,” rather than the company’s name. This can be a tip-off that the moving company uses many different names in an attempt to make it difficult for regulators to hold them accountable.
The mover’s offices and warehouse are in poor condition or nonexistent. Check that the moving company has a real address beyond its website.
On moving day, a rental truck arrives rather than a company-owned or marked fleet truck. Vehicles used to move household goods must display the Department of Transportation number of the moving business.
Moving companies hired three or more days in advance must provide you with a copy of their moving services agreement, and also An Important Notice About Your Move document, and the Important Information For Persons Moving Household Goods (within California) booklet. The booklet provides rules and regulations that a moving company must follow and information about your rights. If they don’t offer these materials, find another moving company.
If you have a dispute with a moving company, BHGS can help. You can file a complaint against a moving company by calling (916) 999-2041, or by writing to:
Bureau of Household Goods and Services
4244 South Market Court, Suite D
Sacramento, CA 95834
You can also file a complaint by clicking on the “Consumers” tab on BHGS’s website, https://bhgs.dca.ca.gov.