Dear Consumer Ed:
The moving company I hired gave me a quote for $1,000 to move me into my new house. After they loaded all my stuff in the truck, they said it was going to cost me $1,250. I told them I was not going to pay a penny over what they quoted me, and they said that unless I pay the extra money, they will not let me have my furniture. What should I do?
Consumer Ed says:
There are two types of estimates most commonly given by moving companies: a binding estimate, or a non-binding estimate, both of which are required to be given in writing. What recourse you have depends upon which type you were given.
A binding estimate means that the mover and you have agreed, in writing and prior to the move, that the mover will perform specific services for a specific amount; both you and the mover are bound by this agreement, which guarantees the total cost of the move based upon the quantities and services shown on the estimate. If you agree to a binding estimate, you’re responsible for paying the agreed-upon charges to your mover at the time of delivery (unless your mover agrees otherwise). With a binding estimate, your mover may not collect more than the amount of the original binding estimate, except in cases where you request additional services or your mover has had to perform impracticable operations (i.e., tasks that are so difficult or expensive that performing them will result in financial harm to the mover) to accomplish the delivery of your furniture. In this instance, your mover would be able to collect the extra charges for those services when your furniture is actually delivered, but only then.
However, if the mover loads your furniture without either entering into a new binding estimate or agreeing to treat the original estimate as a nonbinding estimate, then this reaffirms the original binding estimate. If your mover doesn’t relinquish possession of your furniture upon your offer to pay the original binding estimate amount (and, where applicable, the cost of any additional requested services or impracticable operations, the cost of which cannot exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery), your mover can be held liable for failure to transport a shipment with “reasonable dispatch”, and is subject to cargo delay claims under federal law.
If you were given a non-binding estimate, this means that the mover is merely giving you a general idea of the cost of the move, but it does not bind your mover to the estimated cost. You should therefore expect the final cost to be more than the estimate (up to 10 percent more than the estimated amount at the time of delivery, unless you’ve requested that the mover perform additional services or impracticable operations—but, as with binding estimates, these can be collected only after delivery). Non-binding estimates must be in writing and clearly describe the furniture and all services provided.
Before loading your furniture, if your mover believes that additional household goods have been added to the load, or that you’re requiring additional services not identified in the non-binding estimate, and you and your mover cannot reach an agreement, your mover can refuse to service the shipment. If your mover agrees to service the shipment, your mover must either reaffirm the non-binding estimate, or negotiate a revised written non-binding estimate, listing the additional household goods or services. However, if the mover loads your furniture without negotiating a new estimate, then it has essentially reaffirmed the original non-binding estimate, and it may not collect more than 110 percent of the amount of this estimate when it arrives at the delivery destination. If the total bill is 110 percent or less of the non-binding estimate, the mover can require payment in full only upon delivery. If the bill exceeds 110 percent of the non-binding estimate, your mover must relinquish possession of your furniture upon delivery once you’ve made payment of 110 percent of the estimated amount, and defer billing for the remaining charges for at least 30 days. As with a binding estimate, if your mover doesn’t relinquish possession of your furniture upon your offer to pay 110 percent of the estimated charges (and, where applicable, the cost of any additional requested services or impracticable operations, the cost of which cannot exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery), then your mover can be held liable for failure to transport a shipment with “reasonable dispatch”, and it is subject to cargo delay claims under federal law.
Because your mover loaded your furniture without first taking any of the necessary steps that would have permitted it to re-negotiate the terms of the estimate, it must abide by those terms (regardless of which type you were given, binding or non-binding). Further, it may not hold your furniture “hostage” until you agree to pay more money.
In Georgia, the Department of Public Safety has jurisdiction over movers of household goods. To file a complaint, get a list of licensed movers, or to learn more about your rights, visit their website at www.gamccd.net/HouseholdGoods.aspx or call (404) 624-7000.