Column: Complaints about movers soar as millions relocate because of the pandemic

Alex Beckers and his wife Gina moved from Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon in November – two of the million Americans who have chosen to move amid the pandemic.

However, many of Beckerses’ items are not included yet, including a computer, furniture, confidential documents, and photo albums.

And they say the Northridge moving company that owns their possessions and is looking for thousands of dollars in extra money keeps giving them the detour.

“It was one of the most stressful and frustrating experiences of my life to have to deal with it,” Beckers told me.

Unfortunately, he and his wife are not alone with such a headache.

Problems related to moving companies, including some moving companies that take people’s belongings hostage unless they get more money, are not new. I first wrote about the problem in 2007.

However, the threat to consumers has increased during the pandemic as millions of Americans have tried to move to places they believe are safer or cut costs due to job losses and the nationwide shift to remote working and schooling.

According to an analysis of address change forms submitted to the U.S. Postal Service, around 16 million Americans moved from February to July.

According to the Pew Research Center, about 22% of adults in the US have moved or know someone who has since the pandemic started.

According to United Van Lines, Idaho was the state many of its customers traveled to in the past year, followed by South Carolina, Oregon, South Dakota, and Arizona.

California was one of the states “that saw the greatest exodus,” the company said.

All of these migrations have created a unique opportunity for unlicensed or night-time moving companies, officials say, as well as for companies that want to take advantage of people.

The California Department of Consumer Protection investigated complaints related to moving companies at my request. It was found that 445 complaints were filed from March to December last year, more than twice as many as in the same period last year.

And this could just be the tip of the iceberg.

A spokesman admitted that many people may not know where to report issues because the Department of Consumer Affairs didn’t start regulating moving companies until 2018 – the industry was previously overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission.

“California consumers must be very careful about hiring a moving company,” said Nicholas Oliver, who oversees the division’s home goods and services bureau. “Consumers should do a thorough research of moving companies before hiring them.”

The American Moving & Storage Assn., An industry group, warned last August that while incidents with “fraudsters” are only a small fraction of annual removals, “they can cause annoyance and worry for consumers, sometimes resulting in lost or damaged property leads as well as thousands of dollars in additional fees. “

Beckers, who works for a video game developer in Culver City, and his wife, who works for a consulting firm, realized that working remotely was an opportunity to share about lifestyle.

They had always liked Portland. Last fall, they decided to rent their LA home and rent a space up north.

“We are now spending less on rent than on our mortgage,” said Beckers. “And now we have three bedrooms instead of two.”

The couple hired a moving agent, Express Moving Consultants, a Florida company that claims online that it can make a remote move easy by doing everything – hiring moving companies, planning, avoiding unexpected fees.

Beckers said Express listed a price of about $ 4,000 for the move. He agreed to prepay the company nearly $ 1,300, with the balance to be paid after delivery. A truck was due to arrive for collection on October 29th.

Express informed Beckers that the rented truck broke down. It was said that another removal team would arrive the next day. It was not like that. Express said the driver was in the hospital.

At this point, Beckers and his wife were already in Portland. They got friends overseeing things at the end of LA.

A Northridge Speed ​​Way Movers truck stopped at the LA home on November 1st. Beckers said the crew looked at the job and immediately said $ 4,000 wouldn’t cut it off.

They asked for about $ 8,200 – more than double the original estimate.

“At that point in time,” said Beckers, “I had my suspicions. But I still wanted to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. “

He also knew that he was in a difficult situation. He was in Oregon. His things were in LA. His new SoCal tenants were ready to move.

Beckers agreed to pay an additional $ 3,475 upfront, with the understanding that Speed ​​Way Movers would receive the balance in cash upon completion of delivery.

He said about two-thirds of her belongings arrived in Portland on November 6th. The rest is still in a warehouse in Southern California because Speed ​​Way Beckers said they were having trouble finding a truck to complete the job.

Beckers said both Speed ​​Way and Express had told him for weeks that everything was taken care of. Now, he said, no company responds to his calls.

Still mine. I contacted Express and Speed ​​Way by phone and email. Nobody came back to me.

Beckers said he had contacted the police but was told that nothing could be done as this was “a business dispute”. He contacted his insurer, but it was said that a claim could not be made without a police report.

The couple is now wondering if it is worth the money to hire a lawyer.

Bad situation.

Here are some moving tips from the State Department of Consumer Affairs:

  • Check with any moving company before signing a contract. “If possible, visit the company’s headquarters.”
  • Make sure the company is licensed by calling (916) 999-2041 or checking its status online at www.bhgs.dca.ca.gov.
  • Check the company’s complaint history with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Photograph or film your belongings before they are loaded onto the truck.

“These companies know how stressful a move is,” said Beckers. “They could try to take advantage of you.”

His main advice to others: don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt. “If something seems rotten,” he told me, “it probably is.”

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