As excited as you were about your recent move, things didn’t go as well as you had planned. The movers may have broken your belongings or destroyed your new home in the process of moving your goods. This may sound crazy, but it’s real and it does happen.

If you had an inexcusable experience with a moving company, it’s your responsibility to help out future movers by filing a complaint. You should start with trying to resolve the issue directly with the moving company and be sure to also check whether they have their own complaint system. A good company will track good and bad experiences and will want customer feedback.

If your issue cannot be resolved directly through the company, you should file a formal complaint. The process of filing a complaint may seem confusing, but it’s not – and it’s worth it.

Where Should I File a Complaint?

First, file a complaint with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It’s easy to do! Just visit their Web site at www.1-888-dot-saft.com/CC_Info.htm or call them at 1-888-368-7238.

In addition, make sure you file a complaint with the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General. To speak to their office about filing a complaint, send an e-mail to hotline@oig.dot.gov.

Also, if your mover is a member of the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA), you can file for arbitration by following the AMSA arbitration guidelines at www.moving.org. To find out if your mover is a member, contact the AMSA at 1-703-683-7410 or amconf@amconf.org.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) also offers a complaint registry and provides information on what types of complaints it accepts. You can visit their complaint center online at www.bbb.com.

Some other useful complaint resources are:

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection
  • The National Association of Attorneys General
  • Better Business Bureau
  • MyMovingReviews.com
  • Rip-off Report.com

Generally, if you’re an individual consumer who arranged your own domestic or international relocation, you must resolve your own loss and damage or service disputes when you enter a contractual arrangement with the local or long distance household goods carrier or move broker you hired.

Here are a few tips to help make the problem resolution efforts more successful.

Read Your Paperwork

A claim against a household goods motor carrier or move broker is really a legal demand for the payment of money arising from the breach of the contract of carriage which is usually defined as the bill of lading.

The rules governing the filing of claims for disputes involving intrastate or interstate commerce must be followed strictly according to the applicable local, state, or federal regulations. Claims involving international transportation may also involve government treaties negotiated between countries.

Normally your mover’s obligations are defined by the bill or lading (or local service ticket) you signed before the driver took possession of your household goods. Essentially you are bound by each of the following three terms and conditions:

  • The terms and conditions you negotiated before your move.
  • The terms and conditions you accepted when you signed the bill of lading.
  • The terms and conditions you accepted when you signed for delivery of your goods.

Unless you have them in writing, it doesn’t really matter what terms were verbally agreed to when you received your initial in-home estimate or online price quote. The terms and conditions outlined on the bill of lading/work ticket is the contract that an arbitrator or court will base their dispute decision on if you can’t find satisfaction working with the company.  The tariffs of most independent moving companies and national van lines require that a claim be filed within a specific number of days of actual date of delivery (i.e. 180 days).

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Property damage claims are administered based on the kind of valuation coverage selected by the customer, the type damage, and the amount claimed. Some hi-value property loss and damage claims require that receipts or documentation be provided as part of the adjudication process.

Some carriers allow a specific per diem amount for delay and inconvenience claims. The number is usually determined by the actual size or weight of the shipment. Just as important, though, is the reasonableness of the demand. Most movers won’t honor delay claims when the amount they’re transporting is less than a specific weight (i.e. 1000, 2000, or 3500 lbs). Some responsible carriers, however, will reimburse a customer for unforeseen incidental expenses like the cost of some food, toiletries, or clothing purchased when an inconvenienced individual or family ‘camped out’ in sleeping bags on the living room floor of their new home instead of using a hotel/motel even if they don’t qualify.  See #1.

You must file a WRITTEN claim to receive a settlement

It against the law for all interstate and most intrastate household goods carriers to reduce their bill of lading charges to reflect a delay or inconvenience claim or to try to adjudicate known property loss or damage incident at the owner’s request.

Under federal regulations, a households carrier can not “voluntarily pay a claim … unless and until a formal claim in writing for a specified or determinable amount of money shall have been filed in accordance with the provisions of paragraph (b) of this section 49CFR370.3 – Filing of Claims.

And don’t expect to see a major reduction in your final bill unless the company transporting your stuff had a particularly egregious service meltdown, or your things were involved in a catastrophic loss (i.e. fire, flood, accident, theft, etc.). Despite what you expect, a company will not agree to transport your things for free even if they miss their agreed pickup and/or delivery commitments by a wide margin.

Go up the ladder

If you have a customer service issue, don’t waste time with your salesperson or move coordinator. Talk to their boss! No, that doesn’t mean the company owner, President or CEO. Obtaining any satisfaction could take twice as long if you start your discussion at that end of the management chain.

Instead, ask for the departmental manager or responsible supervisor. If you dealing with an operational, billing or property damage or inconvenience issue, ask for the appropriate departmental Operations, Accounting or Claims Manager. In small companies, they might all be the same person.

State your issues succinctly

Use the KISS method of communicating. Be assertive without being aggressive. Use respect to politely state your case. Be clear about what you want to make you a satisfied customer … then wait for a response. You might be surprised at what type of dispute settlement restrained silence and reserved cooperation are able to negotiate. A claims adjuster doesn’t need to know about all the emotional family memories or sentimental loss your feel every time you think about the chip in the saucer from the rarely used tea set that some long-forgotten distant relative gave you as a wedding present 30 plus years ago.

Don’t get too anxious waiting for a reply. FMCSA regulations require that interstate movers and brokers respond to a written claim within 30 days … even it is only to acknowledge receipt of your correspondence. Most states follow the same general guidelines. Be aware that some claims can drag out for months based on their severity. Be patient.

Complaining in public

The expanded use of digital technology, social media, and professional networking platforms has made it extremely easy for upset consumers to air their grievances for the whole world to see. Many disappointed shoppers who selected their movers online (usually for the cheapest price!) turn to popular social media outlets to get revenge for their bad buying decision – usually after they’ve been taken advantage of.

Instead of dealing directly with the company about their disappointment, many try to embarrass their mover or broker into accepting their unrealistic settlement terms in the virtual “court of public opinion”.

Most legitimate movers, brokers, national van lines; international freight forwarders or mobility service companies won’t engage an upset customer or address their individual complaint or service problem in a public venue. Instead, many will simply acknowledge the complaint but then invite the customer to discuss their concerns offline.

Don’t rely to the BBB to solve your dispute

While it is always a good idea use the local BBB information to check a company’s credentials, don’t expect the popular consumers advocacy organization to resolve your complaint.

For years, the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB) have used their internal reliability rating system to report on both BBB Accredited and non-accredited businesses. The popular international membership organization proudly boasts that BBB Accredited Businesses agree to abide by the BBB Standards for Trust.

In fact, one of the eight requirements that BBB execs are fond of quoting is that the companies or organizations being scrutinized must be “Be Responsive” when addressing consumer complaints and “marketplace disputes quickly, professionally, and in good faith.” – regardless of their membership status.  As a result, many very responsible but “non-accredited” moving and storage businesses and well-regarded product and service suppliers receive “failing” grades from angry customers who apparently felt that their complaints weren’t be answered promptly enough or to the level of their individual expectations.
Coincidentally, the BBB requirement that proceeds the responsive standard establishes the expectation that both accredited and non-accredited businesses will “Honor Promises” and “abide by all written agreements and verbal representations.”
Essentially that means that if a company honestly administers their complaints by what’s legally required in their contracts (see #3) that the customer signed in good faith (see #1), the BBB will still allow a disgruntled visitor to post a very negative review that can result in a less than stellar grade regardless of their accreditation status based on the subjective, one-sided input.
It’s for that reason that many movers no longer participate in the BBB’s somewhat dubious ‘pay-to-play’ reliability rating system.

Filing “Official” complaints

Neither the FMCSA  nor most state consumer protection agencies can help aggrieved customers adjudicate a service issue or claim with a mover or broker. They don’t have the legal authority or financial resources to seek a court injunction on your behalf.  Federal regulations and many state laws, however, require licensed carriers to offer more affordable third party arbitration services to settle unresolved disputes.

The FMCSA  does provide consumers with several helpful resources to check the credentials of movers they’re considering.