Aug. 13, 2013 -- Dear ABC News Fixer: I hired a moving company to move me from Calais, Maine, to Berwick, Pa. The binding estimate was $8,355, including a $695 binding estimate fee. After the move was underway, however, I was given a new price of $14,184.30.
I don't have that much, so they are holding my furniture and belongings hostage until I pay this bill. I've contacted a lawyer and the company is putting my stuff in storage until I pay up.
Also, the tractor and trailer that were supposed to do the move broke down and they showed up in two little rental trucks. They weren't big enough, so they had to rent a third truck. I think they are trying to cut their losses by charging me for extras. What can I do?
- Stephen Baum, Berwick, Pa.
Dear Stephen: We fixed your problem back in March, but it's worth talking about now, in the midst of summer moving season. There are federal laws protecting consumers who undertake interstate moves. One big no-no is for a mover to hold a consumer's goods hostage while trying to get a higher price. Under federal law, once a consumer pays 110 percent of a non-binding estimate or 100 percent of a binding estimate, the goods must be released. (If the mover has justifiable increases, they can bill you later – but they are not supposed to use your stuff as leverage.)
You told us that you hired Neighbors Moving & Storage of Pompano Beach, Fla., for the move. It turns out Neighbors is a broker that simply arranged your move. They hired South Moving Transportation of Deerfield Beach, Fla., to conduct the move.
We dispatched ABC News producer Angela M. Hill to your new place in Pennsylvania to check out the situation, while The ABC News Fixer got on the case. (You were majorly stressed at this point; besides the moving issue, your wife was hospitalized in Pennsylvania for bronchitis and high blood pressure.) We reached out to both Neighbors Moving & Storage and South Moving Transportation. And we got some good news: a South Moving Transportation customer service rep told us there was a misunderstanding about the price. They also called you and said they would deliver your belongings the next day for the original price.
When the trucks arrived, there was a little more confusion, with the movers saying they couldn't unload at the original price. You held firm and they completed the move as promised.
As for others who are planning a move: The first thing any consumer should do before moving is check out ProtectYourMove.gov. The site is loaded with information.
Here are some quick tips for a smooth move:
Check the mover's or broker's registration and complaint record at ProtectYourMove.gov. Under strengthened federal regulations, brokers are now required to provide consumer protection information, give a written estimate and disclose the names of movers they use.
Check consumer-oriented websites for complaints and reviews.
Get a written estimate from a mover who comes out and actually looks at your stuff.
Never sign a blank or incomplete document! We've heard many stories about consumers who've signed an incomplete form, only to have the mover write in much higher fees later.
Understand the level of insurance offered. If it's 60 cents per pound, is that enough to cover a pricey item that doesn't weigh much? If not, consider full replacement insurance and make sure you are aware of any exceptions to the coverage.
Remember the no-goods-as-hostage rule for interstate moves: After you pay 110 percent of a non-binding estimate or 100 percent of a binding estimate, the movers must release your stuff.
- The ABC News Fixer
Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.