Update: New rules for HHG movers approved in three states

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 7/20/2017

Operations of household good movers are the subject of new laws from Arizona to West Virginia.

A new rule poised to take effect in Arizona covers concerns about “hostage loads.” Specifically, Gov. Doug Ducey signed his name to a bill to prohibit moving companies from holding in-state customer possessions over a payment dispute.

The governor said the new law protects consumers moving within Arizona and mandates transparency from moving companies. Moves across state lines are governed by federal law.

“Customers don’t need the added worry of having to deal with unscrupulous movers taking advantage of them,” Ducey said in recent remarks. “This legislation rightly puts an end to ‘hostage loads’ and ensures all fees and costs are disclosed from the get-go.”

Effective Aug. 8, moving companies will be required to accurately and completely disclose information about fees, charges and insurance. Movers cannot refuse to deliver goods unless they provided consumers with an up-front estimate and the consumer has failed to pay.

Attorney General Mark Brnovich said moving scams come in a variety of forms, including false advertising, undisclosed fees, lack of insurance, and lowball prices combined with bait-and-switch tactics.

Previously HB2145, the new law permits police to take possession of household goods that a mover refuses to deliver and unload.

Moving companies will be authorized to pursue collection of unpaid amounts on the contract after the goods are unloaded.

Louisiana lawmakers also took action to require HHG moving businesses to be open for business and to be staffed during regular business hours.

The Louisiana Public Service Commission is also authorized to suspend or cancel business operations for carriers that fail to maintain a permanent establishment in the state. A hearing would be required to take place before the suspension or cancellation can take effect.

HB128 covers contracts starting at $400 – up from $250 in existing law.

The changes take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

A new law already in effect in West Virginia is intended to help startups in the household goods moving industry.

West Virginia law has required owners of household goods companies to approve new businesses.

The change adopted by state lawmakers this year exempts HHG carriers from jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said the law also eliminates burdensome regulatory procedures, including the certificate of need requirement for intrastate operations.

Blair added during Senate floor discussion the certificate of need application process makes it nearly impossible for someone to start a new moving business.

“The application process allows for any existing company to protest a new application.”

He said that since the year 2000, 24 moving companies have submitted certificate of need applications to the Public Service Commission but only three have been granted.

“I think that is very telling,” Blair told Senators. “This regulation of the moving companies does nothing to help protect our citizens. It only drives up the cost and reduces competition by protecting the good-ole-boy existing companies.”

An effort moving through the Pennsylvania statehouse would boost penalties for “rogue” household goods movers operating in the state.

State law now requires HHG movers to register and obtain a permit with the Public Utility Commission, maintain workers compensation coverage, pay wages subject to taxation, and have adequate insurance coverage for goods moved.

Violators face a maximum $1,000 fine.

The Senate voted unanimously to advance a bill that applies criminal penalties to HHG movers who fail to adhere to existing rules in the state. It now moves to the House.

Sen. David Argall, R-Schuylkill/Berks, said his bill addresses what is now an uneven playing field for movers.

“In Pennsylvania, it is more advantageous to operate a household goods moving company illegally than it is to comply with the law,” Argall stated. “These illegal companies often lack the necessary insurance coverage to protect damaged goods during a move, leaving the consumer on the hook.”

SB458 calls for offenders to face $5,000 fines, a third degree misdemeanor, suspension of registration and/or confiscation and impoundment of the motor vehicle used in the illegal move. Subsequent offenses could result in $10,000 fines.

Fine revenue would be used to help PUC motor carrier enforcement efforts.

The bill awaits further consideration in the House Consumer Affairs Committee.

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