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The Official

 New York City Department of Consumer Affairs

 Consumer Guide to Moving & Storage Services

 

New York City Department of Consumer Affairs
42 Broadway
New York, NY 10004

Rudolph W. Giuliani
Mayor

Jose Maldonado
Commissioner

Dear Consumer,

Throughout the year -- but particularly during the peak moving period during summer months -- the Department of Consumer Affairs receives many complaints from consumers dissatisfied with moving and storage companies.

Far too frequently, unscrupulous movers will float "low-ball" estimates to entice consumers into entering contracts for moving and storage services. Then the shock arrives along with the furniture -- a huge bill. Many consumers have reported to our agency that companies will hold their household possessions hostage in storage warehouses in exchange for exorbitant fees that exceed the original estimates.

In order to make your moving and storage experiences less stressful and costly, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs has written this consumer guide to moving and storage services. The brochure outlines your rights and responsibilities as a consumer and will assist you in avoiding potential problems when your belongings are on the move or in storage.

And when selecting a moving or traditional storage service provider, make sure to use only licensed businesses. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs licenses traditional storage warehouses (self-storage warehouses, where you keep the key to your space, do not need to be licensed), while the New York State Department of Transportation licenses moving firms that operate within the state.

We hope that you find this guide useful and informative.

Sincerely yours,

 

 

Rudolph W. Giuliani
Mayor

Jose Maldonado
Commissioner

MOVING SERVICES

 


 

MOVING BASICS

Making a move involves a lot more than just packing up your belongings and transporting them from one location to another. One of the most important things in any move is understanding the paper trail of documents that spell out the costs and the details of the move. Knowing about these documents and what steps to take to pin down important details can save you time and money and smooth the way to your new home.

 

The key documents that will spell out the costs and details of your move are:

 

  • The "Probable Cost of Service" estimate is the first document you may encounter. The probable cost of service is a written statement given well in advance of your move to estimate what the move is likely to cost. Movers are not required to furnish these estimates, but when you begin the process of selecting a mover, ask for one from all the movers you interview. It's a tool you can use to pick the mover that will best serve your needs and to plan ahead for how to pay for the move.

 

  • The "Order for Service" is the first document that a mover is required to provide which you and the mover must sign before your goods are picked up for shipment. It is usually given two to three days prior to your move. This order for service spells out the particulars of your move, such as the names of the parties, relevant addresses and phone numbers, the agreed upon pick-up and delivery dates and times, a description of any special services you order, the estimated probable cost of the move, the method of payment (i.e. cash, certified check or money order) and the maximum amount that you would have to pay to obtain all your goods in a cash-on-delivery (C.O.D.) shipment.

The estimated probable cost of the move that is stated in the order for service is not, however, required to match the probable cost of service estimate the mover may previously have given to you. That's because the earlier probable cost of service estimate may not have covered everything that is finally specified in the order for service. But if the mover cannot satisfactorily explain large differences between the estimated cost stated in the probable cost of service and the cost stated in the order for service, you may wish to reconsider the mover you selected before signing the order of service.

 

The estimated cost of the move stated in the order for service is, however, the basis for calculating the maximum amount that you would have to pay to obtain all your goods in a C.O.D. shipment. That maximum amount is the estimated cost plus 25% of that amount for hourly-rated moves or plus 10% for weight-rated moves. This maximum amount must also be stated in the order for service.

 

It is important for you to keep in mind that in C.O.D. situations, the maximum amount you are required to pay to get all your possessions may be significantly lower than the amount the mover claims is due. If you pay that maximum, the mover must deliver all your goods. You can later dispute the bill by taking a complaint to the DOT if you cannot resolve it with the mover. See the section entitled "Getting your Goods".

 

  • The "Bill of Lading" is issued by the mover when the goods are picked up. This very important document serves as the mover's receipt for your goods and represents the contract between you and the mover. The bill of lading spells out the mover's liability for loss or damage to your goods as limited by the valuation that you place on them. This valuation will determine what you could collect from the mover in case of loss or damage to your goods. The bill of lading also includes the actual hours or the weight used to calculate the transportation charges. Finally, the bill of lading includes a delivery receipt for the goods.

 

  • A "Written Binding Estimate" combines both the bill of lading and the order of service into one document, and includes a detailed inventory sheet. A written binding estimate includes all services to be performed and fixes the cost of the move to the estimated amount. The estimate, however, is binding only for the goods and services that are specified in the estimate. The mover could therefore charge you more even under a written binding estimate if you did not identify all the goods to be moved, failed to specify all the services to be performed, or provided inaccurate information about the distance to be moved.

 

Not all movers offer written binding estimates. Movers who give them are also likely to set the transportation charges higher than they would be if the charges were based on the actual time for the job or the actual weight of the goods. Since movers are stuck with their estimate, they may overestimate to make sure they don't lose money on the move. You may, however, wish to seek a mover who does offer a binding estimate so you know in advance what the move will cost you. But when you ask for such an estimate, don't spring surprises on what you want your mover to do for you after you get the estimate, or he will end up surprising you with a higher bill.

 

  • The "Summary of Information" is a general information booklet that has been prepared by the NY State Department of Transportation. Movers are required to give you this booklet the first time they meet you in person.


DETERMINING THE COST OF YOUR MOVE

Many factors affect the cost of your move. The most significant are the amount or weight of the goods and the distance of the move. Unless you receive a written binding estimate, movers must calculate their charges by (i) hourly-rate; or, alternatively by (ii) weight-rate.

 

Hourly-rated moving charges. With hourly-rated moving charges, the transportation charge is based on the actual time it takes to do the job. The mover will specify the hourly rate for its workers (usually three) and for the truck, and the transportation charge will be calculated by applying those rates to the actual time it took for the job. The mover would then also add a charge for travel time from the warehouse to your old address and then back to the warehouse from your new address. This travel time charge may be calculated based on the actual travel time or the time specified for all moves within a particular area. (Hourly-rated charges are usually used for short-distance moves -those that are less than 60 miles.)

 

Weight-rated moving charges. With weight-rated moving charges, the transportation charge is based on the actual weight of the goods moved and the distance they will travel. The mover charges a rate per 100 pounds for the specified distance. Long distance movers governed by the ICC may be allowed to make hourly-rated moves, but you should not use a mover that seeks to charge you on an hourly-rated basis for long distance moves (moves that exceed about 60 miles).

 

It is very important to remember that except for written binding estimate moves, the exact cost of the move cannot be determined until the job is done (for hourly rated moves), or until the goods are weighed after they are loaded on the truck (for weight-rated moves). Movers must charge for the move at the quoted rate for the actual weight that was moved or for the actual time it took for the job.

 

The differences in rates that movers quote for weight or hourly-based charges are likely to have the biggest impact on what the move will cost. After all, your pos-sessions will weigh the same no matter who moves them, and there is unlikely to be a large difference in the time it takes to do it. The hourly or weight rates that movers quote are a key cost indicator for selecting a mover.

It is also imperative that you have an idea about the type of "extra services" that you will need to complete your move. Charges for extra services are often the subject of disputes between consumers and movers. Make sure that your "Probable Cost of Service" estimate and the "Order for Service" includes the cost of all services you want the mover to perform, such as packing, disconnection and reinstallation of appliances, and storing-in-transit. Packing charges should include any materials necessary to protect the goods, such as bubble wrap, boxes and styrofoam wrapping. If you pay for packing services, you should not be billed separately for these materials.

 

Moving companies estimate that packing a typical New York City studio with one tenant may require 10-15 boxes. A four bedroom home with two adults and two children may require 120-200 boxes.


SELECTING A MOVER

Use only licensed movers. To make sure that a mover is licensed, for moves within New York State, call the State Department of Transportation at 718-482-4815. For moves outside of New York State, call the Federal Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) at 212-264-1072.

 

Ask your friends for referrals. Ask movers for references and be sure to check them. Ask each moving company to furnish you with references from three persons that the company moved into your area recently. Ask the references specific questions about their moves, such as how close the estimate was to the final cost and whether the mover was on time.

 

Solicit written estimates ("Probable Cost of Service") from at least three movers and carefully compare hourly rates, the number of hours and the number of workers the mover estimates are required to complete the job. Be wary of estimates that look too good to be true or that vary widely from other estimates in terms of overall costs, or particular cost items like the number of hours or workers needed to do the job.

 

Ask to see a mover's current annual performance report if you are moving out of New York State. A mover must file an annual performance report with the ICC if it transports more than 100 out-of-state C.O.D shipments a year. The report includes information such as the percentage of shipments that exceeded the non-binding estimates in the previous year; the percentage of shipments that were picked up and delivered on time; and the number of shipments that resulted in the filing of loss or damage claims.

 

Call DOT at (718) 482-4815 and ask about the mover's record. If you learn that the mover has a larger than average number of complaints against the company, look for another mover..

 

Call the New York Better Business Bureau (BBB) at (212)-533-6200 for a reliability report on the company.


ARRANGING FOR PICK-UP

Prior to the day of your move (2-3 days), you and your chosen mover will prepare an order for service that contains the pick-up and delivery date, along with the estimated cost of the job. In most cases, you can change the date of your move, or even cancel without penalty. Ask the mover if there is a charge for changes or cancellation.

 

Be sure that all agreements between you and the mover are in writing. Get copies of everything that you sign, especially your bill of lading, the contract with the mover that identifies the goods for which the mover is responsible.

 

If delivery dates are critical, make the company aware of them so they can take steps to ensure on time delivery. Make sure that the mover includes it on the bill of lading.

 

Since most movers do not prepare an item-by-item inventory, prepare your own inventory and list every item you will be moving. Movers are only required to provide an inventory when a binding estimate is given and even in those cases movers only list boxes, furniture and large appliances.

 

Be sure that any notations on the bill of lading or inventory list citing damages to your belongings are correct. Note on the bill of lading or inventory list, any exceptions you may have as to the description of the condition of any of your belongings.

 

Doing your own packing can save you money. Usually you can get free boxes from your local supermarket. If you do your own packing, make sure to pack your articles properly and use enough packing materials to protect them from damage. Failure to properly pack your goods may effect a subsequent claim for damage.

 

As a precaution, pack a couple of boxes with essentials for the first 24 hours and move those boxes yourself.

 

Never pack money, important papers, jewelry, or other valuable items with the shipment.

 

Remain at your original residence until the moving company leaves, unless you have a friend or neighbor acting on your behalf.

 

Advise the mover of telephone numbers and/or addresses where you can be reached on route to, and at your destination. Notify your mover's agent when you reach your destination.


GETTING YOUR GOODS

Do not sign any delivery papers or statements concerning the condition of your goods until you inspect them and check them against the inventory or delivery receipt. Record any damages on the applicable document.

 

If you notice that a box is damaged, open it in the presence of the mover, have them confirm the condition of the items in the box and note the damage on the applicable document.

 

If you find damaged goods after the mover has left, keep the broken items and packing materials as they were in the box, or set aside damaged goods that were not packed. Call the mover immediately so that a claims representative can inspect them.

 

According to New York State law, a mover must deliver all the goods if the consumer pays on delivery the estimated cost stated in the "order of service" plus 25% of that amount for hourly-rated moves, or that estimated cost plus 10% for weight-rated moves. (Check with your mover in advance to determine whether cash payment is required.) Any additional costs must be billed to the customer. If your final bill for moving exceeds both the estimate and the applicable percentage, you have at least 15 days to pay the bill, excluding weekends and holidays.

 

If you do not pay the mover the estimated cost plus the appropriate percentage at the time of delivery, the mover is entitled to retain the portion of the shipment equal to the amount the mover claims is still due. For example, if the estimated cost was $600, but the mover gave you a bill for $800, the mover would have to deliver all your goods if you paid $625 for an hourly-rated move. But if you insisted on paying no more than the $600 you believed was the right amount, the mover could keep goods valued up to $200 to cover the entire disputed balance. Furthermore, you may be subject to additional charges incurred by the mover for storing the withheld goods and for re-delivery. However, the mover must release essential possessions which are defined as beds, kitchen chairs and kitchen tables. If you dispute the amount of your bill, file a complaint with DOT. As a general rule, pay first, fight later.

 

Out-of-state moves are governed by ICC rules. According to the ICC, a mover must relinquish a customer's property in its entirety when the estimate plus 10% is paid upon delivery of the goods. Any additional costs must be billed to the customer. For interstate moves, the cost should be determined by the weight-rated method only.

 

Although you may give your mover a tip, soliciting a tip is against State Department of Transportation rules.


VALUING YOUR GOODS IN CASE OF DAMAGE OR LOSS

Make sure you properly value your goods when you sign the bill of lading. The mover is liable for all loss or damage to your goods, but only up to the value that you declare for the goods being shipped. The declared value is commonly referred to as "valuation coverage" or "release value" of the property. Do not undervalue your goods or you will be undercompensated for your loss.

 

Ask the movers to explain how to estimate the value of your goods to make sure that you adequately protect yourself against loss or damage.

 

State law establishes minimum valuations, unless you specify otherwise. Your options vary, depending upon whether your move is hourly or weight-rated.

 

These are your options for hourly rated moves:

 

1. If you do not declare a value for your goods in the bill of lading, the maximum value of the entire shipment, or any particular item in the shipment, will be set at $2,500. The mover can make you pay an extra charge of $12.50 for this $2,500 valuation. But you will be compensated only for the depreciated value (actual cash value) of lost or damaged goods rather than what it would cost you to replace them. For example, the depreciated value of the couch you purchased in 1984 for $2,000 may be only $800 in 1994.

 

2. If that $2,500 valuation is too low, you can declare a higher valuation for an extra charge. You will be charged $.50 per $100 of additional valuation that you declare. For example, for an additional $12.50 you can increase the value of the shipment, or any item in it, from $2,500 to $5,000. This extra valuation will also be for the depreciated value of the goods.

 

3. You can also lower the value of the shipment to $.30 per pound, per article. To do this, you must handwrite "$.30 per pound" in the valuation statement on the bill of lading. The cost of this valuation is included in the cost of the move. Ordinarily, this valuation will not adequately compensate you for losses. For example, with this valuation, a five pound lamp would only be valued at $1.50 if it is lost or damaged, no matter how much it is actually worth.

 

These are your options for weight-rated moves:

 

1. If you do not declare a value in the bill of lading, the shipment will be valued at $1.25 per pound. For example, if your shipment weighed 4,000 pounds, it will be valued at $5,000. The mover can charge you $.50 per $100 of declared value. Thus, this $5,000 valuation will cost you $25. This valuation will also be for the depreciated value of your goods.

 

2. If this declared value is too low, you can declare a lump sum amount that you deem appropriate, but which cannot be less than $1.25 per pound. For example, with your 4000 pound shipment, you can set the value at $8000. However, you would have to set a minimum value of at least $5000. You would be charged $.50 per $100 of declared value, or $40 as in this example. Again, this valuation will be for the depreciated value of the goods.

 

3. You can also lower the value of the shipment to $.60 per pound, per article. To do this, you must handwrite "$.60 per pound" in the valuation statement on the bill of lading. The cost of this valuation is included in the cost of the move. Ordinarily, this valuation will not adequately compensate you for losses. For example, with this valuation, your five pound lamp would only be valued at $3.00 if it is lost or damaged, no matter how much it is actually worth.

 

You can also purchase insurance from some movers. They must then provide you with a certificate stating the value you place on the shipment, the cost of the insurance, the amount of the deductible, if any, the name and address of the insurance company, and the type of insurance.

 

To verify the name of a mover's insurance company call the State Department of Transportation at (518) 457-6503.

 

Check with your insurance agent about purchasing your own insurance to cover your goods.


STORAGE SERVICES

The requirements covering the storage of goods vary depending on the type of facility being used "traditional" storage warehouses are licensed by Department of Consumer Affairs; self-storage or "mini-storage" facilities, where you keep the key to your space, are not), and whether the goods are being stored as part of a move to a final destination (called "storage in transit") or whether the goods are going into "long-term" storage.


STORAGE AS PART OF YOUR MOVE ("STORAGE-IN-TRANSIT")

Frequently consumers are not ready to move into their new homes immediately and need to place their goods in storage, temporarily, until the mover can complete the delivery. This service is usually referred to as "storage in-transit."

 

Important things to know about "storage in-transit" are as follows:

 

"Storage-in-transit" services are provided by the mover at your request, for an additional charge. If you know that you will need to store your goods before finishing your move, inform your mover in advance and make sure the charge for this service is included on both the "order for service" and "bill of lading."

 

Your mover can arrange for "storage in transit" at its own facility, or at any other facility. While your goods are "in-transit", your mover remains responsible for them and the terms and conditions of the storage continue to be governed by the moving contract and applicable DOT regulations.

 

If you need "storage-in-transit," find out from the mover where, and by whom, your goods will be stored. Make sure that your contract includes both the name of the warehouse operator and the location where the goods will actually be stored. It is important for you to know the location of the warehouse in case you need to find your goods or make your own arrangement for placing them into long-term storage.

 

The period of time during which your goods can be stored "in-transit" is limited. For moves within New York City, the "storage-in-transit" period is limited to 30 days; elsewhere in New York State, "storage in-transit" is up to 180 days.

 

At the end of the "storage-in-transit" period, any further storage should be under a separate storage contract with the warehouse operator. DCA regulations for licensed warehouse operators would then apply at this point.


LONG-TERM STORAGE

There are two kinds of facilities that can be used for long-term storage. One is a "traditional" storage warehouse where the operator accepts your goods under a storage contract and controls access to your goods. Under this arrangement, the warehouse operator has significant responsibility for your possessions. The other type is a self-storage or "mini-storage" facility where you rent the space under an "occupancy agreement." Under this arrangement, you control access to the goods and you are generally provided with a key to your storage room. The operator has very limited responsibility for the goods.

 

NOTE: DCA licenses the "traditional" storage warehouse; self-storage facilities do not require a license.

 

When selecting a "traditional" storage warehouse, make sure that the operator has a valid DCA license and has secured the required $10,000 bond. If you use an unlicensed storage warehouse and subsequently run into problems, our ability to help you may be very limited. You can find out if a storage warehouse has a license by calling DCA's license issuance division at (212) 487-4051. Additionally, you may check a storage warehouse's performance record by calling DCA's complaint division at (212) 487-4398. You may also check a warehouse's performance record by calling the Better Business Bureau at (212) 533-6200.


OBLIGATIONS OF A LICENSED STORAGE WAREHOUSE OPERATOR

A licensed "traditional" storage warehouse operator by law must:

 

State in writing where the goods will be stored.

 

Give you a written contract for storage (look for the DCA license number on the contract).

 

At your request and prior to storage, prepare a written estimate of the monthly charge for your goods (it may charge up to $10 for the estimate).

 

Give you a written inventory of your goods at the time of storage.

 

Provide a minimum valuation of $.30 per pound per item up to $2,000 for the goods, and offer to increase the valuation for an additional charge.

 

Provide you with its schedule of rates and charges, including charges for such services as packing, warehouse labor, and access to your goods.

 

A licensed warehouse operator must bill you within five (5) business days after the arrival of your goods and at least bi-monthly thereafter. The operator may not charge you for any services or expenses that do not appear on the written estimate.

Warning: If you do not pay the storage warehouse bill, the storage warehouse operator may place a lien on your property and sell it to cover the storage charges and reasonable expenses incurred to obtain payment. However, the operator must notify you in writing in advance and give you the opportunity for a hearing at the New York Better Business Bureau (BBB) prior to the sale To request a hearing, call the BBB at (212) 533-6200. This hearing, however, is only for disputes about whether the amount of the storage charges is correct.


FILING A MOVING/STORAGE CLAIM OR COMPLAINT

If your shipment has sustained loss or damage during a move, you have nine months to file a claim with the moving company (IMPORTANT: Immediately notify the mover about loss or damage).The mover must acknowledge your claim within 30 days and must offer you a settlement or deny your claim within 120 days.

 

To file a claim with a warehouse operator for damage or loss of goods under a storage contract, you must do so within the time for filing a claim as stated in your storage contract. This will usually be 60 days, but check your contract to be sure. If you don't file a claim within the time stated in your contract, you are likely to lose out.

 

To file a complaint against a moving company in New York State call the State Department of Transportation at 718-482-4815/6.

 

To file a complaint involving a move outside of New York State can be filed with the regional Interstate Commerce Commission office in Philadelphia by calling (215) 596-4040.

 

If you do not reach a satisfactory settlement with the mover you can pursue civil action in court.

 

If you want to file a complaint with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs against a storage warehouse located in New York City, call or write to one of the following DCA offices for assistance:

THE CITY OF NEW YORK

DEPARTMENT OF CONSUMER AFFAIRS

Main Office (212) 487-4398

42 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10004

 

Queens (718) 286-2990

120-55 Queens Blvd., Kew Gardens, N.Y. 11424

 

Staten Island (718) 816-2280

S.I. Borough Hall, Rm 422, Staten Island, N.Y. 10301

 

 




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