State takes action against unscrupulous movers

May 18, 2010 7:15:26 PM PDT
The State Public Utilities Commission took action Tuesday against more than three dozen moving companies. Violations ranged from over-billing, to operating without a license.

It is a timely reminder of just how careful people need to be when hiring a mover. It has been seen over and over again, people ripped off by movers and moving brokers who hold people's furniture hostage until they are paid a lot more than was originally bargained for.

7 On Your Side was in Clayton when one woman's belongings arrived from out of state. Laurie O'Hanna could hardly wait for the day. Her furniture arrived from Colorado to her new home in Contra Costa County, but not before she paid a hefty price that brought her moving bill to $6,350, $2,200 more than originally estimated.

"I had a binding estimate that kept growing exponentially, seems by the day," O'Hanna told ABC7.

She received her estimate based on a telephone survey, something an industry trade group says often leads to problems.

Vice President of the American Moving and Storage Association Paul Oakley says, "The mover shows up on the assigned day and looks around at the household and says,'I can't move this household for anywhere close to that estimate.'"

That is what O'Hanna says happened in her case. The problem started for her when she hired a moving broker. Moving brokers do not actually move your stuff. They find a moving company to do it for you.

In this case, the moving broker found "A Discount Moving and Storage."

"The problem is she booked with a moving broker. OK, she's never talked to us. She gave him a deposit and they called us and asked if we wanted to do the job," says Gary Sievert with A Discount Moving and Storage.

O'Hanna received what she thought was a binding estimate from the broker for about $4,200. But, when the mover came to pick up her items, he told her he couldn't do the move for that price.

"There is no requirement for brokers," Oakley says. "They can tell you it's a binding estimate, but it's not binding under law."

A Discount Moving and Storage demanded an additional $6,000 before it would unload O'Hanna's goods into her home. That was on top of the $2,000 deposit she paid her broker.

"First of all, she booked with a moving broker online. We're an actual moving company out of Denver, Colorado," Sievert says. "We didn't do no estimate. She booked with a different party."

Clayton Police Chief Dan Lawrence arrived after being notified by 7 On Your Side.

"You're going to deliver this furniture irregardless of whether you think she owes more money or not, is that correct?" he said.

"No, that's not correct," Sievert replied.

"Here's the deal, you're here. The furniture's here. Why incur more expenses that you end up having to pay in the end? Why don't you just leave it and if you feel you need to go..." the chief continued.

"I can't leave without getting paid," Sievert told him.

The two agreed to a compromise. O'Hanna paid him $4,000 instead of the $6,000. She reserved the right to sue for the rest later. The California Public Utilities Commission has seen this sort of scenario play out before.

"The most common problems that consumers are going to see are carriers that are either charging too much for moving materials, so excessive use of packing materials, things like bubble wrap and boxes," CPUC Deputy Director Julie Halligan explains. "Or, they're also going to see having their goods held hostage until the consumer pays more than they originally agreed to."

The state requires movers set a firm price for the move, but because O'Hanna's move crossed state lines, California law did not apply. Two months later, A Discount Moving and Storage sued for an additional $2,000.

Commissioner Gregg Riehl did not buy it. He found in favor of the defendant and determined that no money was owed.


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