moving-van-istock

Moving van in front of house (iStockphoto)

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people across Canada pack up their worldly possessions and move.

Most make a short-haul move within their community, but many venture to another province or even relocate to another country. It can be one of the most stressful experiences and is repeated numerous times throughout a lifetime.

In fact, the 2006 census showed that about 12 million people — more than two-fifths of Canada's population — relocated in the previous five-year period.

Get a move on!

Though the first of July, August and September are the busiest moving days of the year for most of the country, Quebec just has one day.

Tens of thousands of people move en masse on July 1. The Canada Day ritual dates back to 1973 when the Quebec government implemented a law making all leases valid until June 30.

The goal was to minimize disruption for school children by ensuring households moved during the summer break.

More than half of them moved within their municipality, while the second largest group, about 3.6 million, moved to another part of the province. More than one million moved to Canada from another country, and about 850,000 migrated to another province.

Whatever the distance, a move can be stressful enough without the added worry of mover fraud or the destruction or loss of material possessions.

Complaints pour in on a daily basis about movers overcharging, not showing up for a job, taking off with the client's possessions or damaging the goods en route to the new home.

"What [consumers] fail to understand is what they have at risk," said John Levi, president of Canadian Association of Movers, Canada's largest moving industry group. "They're risking everything they own. Everything they own is on that moving van."

Researching a company

The best way to prevent disappointment and disaster is to research companies several months in advance, particularly when moving during the busiest times of year: the start of July, August and September.

"It's a hell of a lot easier to get a good mover than it is to get a complaint resolved," says Levi. "A consumer can run around for years trying to get a complaint resolved."

He warns that despite what many people think, Yellow Page advertisements, postings on bulletin boards and references from friends are not the best way to find a mover.

Instead, consumers should find reputable movers by either contacting their province's consumer services department, the Better Business Bureau or the Canadian Association of Movers.

The BBB also has a searchable database with detailed information about complaints filed against companies, while CAM lists its certified movers. Some provincial governments also provide similar services, such as in Ontario where there is a Consumer Beware List.

Checklist

Once a mover has been selected, consumers still have to sift through the legalese of the contract and get through the process as smoothly as possible.

"The bottom line is: when it comes to signing movers, it is best to know your stuff before you sign on the dotted line," Ontario Consumer Services Minister Sophia Aggelonitis said at a press conference in early August.

More questions?

For detailed information on what questions to ask moving companies, how to complete an estimate and how insurance works, see this Office of Consumer Affairs checklist.

Here's a general checklist of what to think about:

  • Read the fine print and ask questions. Make sure you understand what the contract includes. Is there any extra charge if the move involves going up or down stairs?
  • Find out who is responsible for loss or damage. Your household policy may already cover the possibility of damaged goods. But beware that goods may not be covered by the mover if you pack them yourself. Look into purchasing Replacement Value Protection.
  • Get the contract in writing.
  • Ask at least three companies for estimates.
  • Remember that the lowest price may not be the best choice. You get what you pay for.
  • If you feel you are being swindled out of additional money, state that you are paying under protest. Write "Under protest" on your cheque and on the contract. Then lodge a complaint. 

Consumer rights

Rules by province

Eight provinces regulate the trucking of household goods with similar rules. Here are links to each province's rules in detail (all are PDFs):

Most provinces have almost identical laws concerning the rights and obligations of movers, with the exception of Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, plus the three territories, where no such laws are in place.

Some provinces also have additional consumer protection legislation. In Ontario, for example, its Consumer Protect Act  requires that if a moving company provides an estimate, the final cost cannot exceed the original estimate price by more than 10 per cent.

The household-goods moving industry is largely the domain of the provinces, but federal laws cover some parts of the process. For example, fraudulent companies can be prosecuted under the Criminal Code of Canada, which includes charges of extortion, fraud and possession of stolen goods.

"There's a whole bunch of legislation out there that is capable of protecting the consumer. It's whether it's enforced or not," says Levi.

How to lodge a complaint

Even after thoroughly researching and planning a move, something can go wrong. According to the Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus, complaints about movers ranked seventh in their Top 10 list of consumer beefs in 2009.

An Industry Canada document obtained by The Canadian Press under Access to Information suggests the number of complaints may be even higher — with about one out of every four moves generating a consumer complaint.

If a move does result in broken household goods, delayed or lack of delivery or any other problems, the first step should be contacting the mover to register the complaint with them.

Without that first step, says Levi, the person risks having their complaint expire, rendering it invalid.

Next, consumers should contact their province's consumer services department.

The Better Business Bureau should also be contacted. If the company is a listed member of an industry group such as the Canadian Association of Movers, they can also help arbitrate a solution. 

"This is a complex process," Levi notes, but he adds, "It doesn't have to be a difficult process."