Moving can be stressful, but choosing the right moving company can go a long way towards making the transition to your new home as simple and easy as possible. As a consumer, it's important to know what your rights and responsibilities are when it comes to hiring a mover, negotiating the moving contract, and paying your moving bill.
The good news is that most states have consumer protection laws in place which cover moving companies and services, and in the case of interstate moves, federal regulations dictate specific terms under which a moving company can operate.
Local Moving Companies
Moves that start and end within a single state fall under the jurisdiction of state laws and regulations, and in some situations, county codes may also apply.
Also known as 'intrastate' moving companies, in general these businesses are required to be registered with the state commercial motor vehicle branch or state department of transportation which inspects the company for safety compliance. Some states also have laws that dictate the amount of cargo insurance moving companies must carry, although this isn't required in all locations.
To check state laws related to moving companies in your region, start by contacting your local Department of Transportation or state consumer affairs branch.
Interstate Moving Companies
If you are planning a move to a different state or long distance, you can also expect your moving company to have a USDOT number. This unique identifier is issued by the United States Department of Transportation, and it serves as a nation-wide license for commercial vehicle operators who cross over state lines.
Any company that either hauls cargo (such as a moving company) or transports passengers across state lines must be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) - you can confirm the validity of a USDOT number on the FMCSA website.
Movers vs. Brokers - Know The Difference
Another important factor to consider is whether or not the moving company you're dealing with is a mover, or a broker.
In the case of interstate moves, both movers and brokers must be registered with the FMCSA, however, each company provides a different type of service. Brokers make the arrangements needed to transport your goods from one location to another, while movers actually do the physical work involved with relocating your belongings.
When dealing with either a moving company or a household goods broker, you should receive a written estimate for your moving services in advance along with information about both the dispute resolution program and the amount of insurance carried by the service provider.
The Trouble With Unregulated Moving Companies
Unfortunately, there are a few 'bad apples' in the moving industry who engage in unethical and even illegal practices. This can include movers who ask you to sign an incomplete estimate in an attempt to inflate the final price of your move, demand that the payment be made in cash only, or fail to provide you with a bill of lading (a formal contract) for the transportation of your goods.
The best way to avoid being scammed by an unscrupulous moving company is to do your homework ahead of time. Get at least two non-binding estimates from different movers or brokers before signing a contract, and confirm the validity of your movers' state licence or USDOT number in advance.
Remember, FMCSA regulations only apply to moving companies that offer interstate service.