MARKETPLACE

Moving bill shock leaves B.C. family scrambling to get their stuff

Long-distance moving companies often charge by weight — the more stuff you move, the more you pay. But when you don’t know how heavy your belongings are, it can create problems when it comes time to pay.

Woman stunned after company says her move would cost more than double the estimated price

Karine Murphy and her children Lydia and Leo moved into an empty house after getting hit by a larger-than-expected moving bill. (Marketplace/CBC)

Do you know how much your worldly belongings weigh? Could you even guess?

Long-distance moving companies often charge by weight — the more stuff you move, the more you pay. But when you don't know how heavy your belongings are, it can create problems when it comes time to pay.

Karine Murphy found out the hard way when she moved from Alberta to B.C. last summer with her young children, Leo and Lydia.

Murphy pared down and packed light, but didn't know how much her belongings — which she estimated were about as much as would be found in a one-bedroom apartment — weighed.

She believed Atlantic Van Lines when they gave her an online estimate saying she likely had between 1,000 and 2,000 pounds, and that the total cost should be around $1,200.

So it was a shock when, right before the scheduled delivery, the company said that her stuff actually weighed more than 6,000 pounds, and she would have to pay $2,726 in weight charges alone before they would drop off her possessions.

"When we got that price tag and realized ... we would not have enough to cover it, we definitely would not have anything left over for groceries, to get into the house, furniture or anything," she said. "I only brought one mattress, we didn't have beds for the kids, nothing."

But after the family ultimately got their belongings back through a fundraising campaign, CBC's Marketplace had Murphy's goods reweighed at an industrial weigh station. The total came in at 3,395 pounds, a lot less than her moving company claimed — almost 2,800 pounds less.

Murat and Elena Balduk, the directors of the companies Marketplace looked at, say their companies use certified scales and that clients have the right to ask for their belongings to be reweighed. (Marketplace/CBC)

Marketplace reweighed Murphy's property after it was dropped off by the moving company, but it was otherwise untouched. The weigh station Marketplace used is government certified and checked regularly for accuracy.

Marketplacebegan its investigation after reviewing multiple consumer complaints about long-haul moves. The investigation found that consumers are at a major disadvantage when facing a moving bill based on weight that's much higher than the company quoted.

Different moves, similar stories

Unfortunately, stories like Murphy's aren't rare, according to Jim Carney, a mover with 40-years' experience who sits on the board of the Canadian Association of Movers and owns his own moving company.

The Canadian Association of Movers is a trade organization that represents the interests of moving and storage companies and helps consumers find professional movers. 

"Anybody can move anywhere, even freight companies can move household goods, and as a result we have a tremendous overabundance of moving companies out there," says Carney.

Marketplace investigated Atlantic Van Lines, the company Murphy used, and other companies operated by the same couple — Murat and Elena Balduk — after multiple complaints from customers concerned about the true weight of their moves.

The couple own several moving companies including Atlantic Van Lines, Kingsway Van Lines, Armour Van Lines, Trillium Moving and Storage, and Troy Moving and Storage. The companies are not part of the Canadian Association of Movers.

Marketplace hired Kingsway Van Lines, a company operated by the same family as Atlantic Van Lines, to ship goods from Mississauga, Ont., to Calgary.

Marketplace producers had the shipment weighed separately at a government-certified weigh station before it was picked up by the moving company. It weighed 1,400 pounds.

But Kingsway told Marketplace the shipment weighed 1,890 pounds, which increased the final bill by $250.

'It's just things you can't replace'

Without the money to pay, Atlantic would not drop off Murphy's belongings.

"I'm feeling very anxious. I'm having panic attacks, I'm having trouble breathing, I'm very nervous," she said as she waited for her belongings. "But at the same time I'm anxious to just get it over with and have my things and feel safe with my things, and then deal with the aftermath."

So Murphy went online to ask for help, starting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the increased bill. The online community collected enough money so the Murphys could get their things back.

Jim Carney, with the Canadian Association of Movers, says customers planning a move should always get​​ in-home estimates from moving companies and 'make sure it's in writing.' (Marketplace/CBC)

Murphy and her kids were happy to have their stuff back, especially the baby pictures and family mementos.

"There's no digital copy of these," she said, pointing to pictures of her son as a baby and her parents.

"It's just things you can't replace," she said. "And I know, like, I remember things in my mind but it's nice to be able to have those pictures and have those, you know, frames of times in our life that were important to us."

"And you can't buy that."

Moving company owners respond

Murat and Elena Balduk, the directors of the companies Marketplace looked at, acknowledge that mistakes do happen in the moving industry, but said their companies try to deal with customer complaints "promptly and ethically."

"This was the case with the customers interviewed by Marketplace," according to the statement.

"Our customer records of the transactions in question do not line up with the allegations made by Marketplace," the statement said, adding that the company stands by its records.

The Balduks said their companies use certified scales, and that clients have the right to ask for their belongings to be re-weighed.

The company says quotes are based on information provided by customers and that they "take great care in ensuring that the customer is aware that if they choose to ship more or less the cost is going to be adjusted and based on that."

Tips on moving long distance

Carney, with the Canadian Association of Movers, says there are steps you can take to make sure you hire a moving company you can trust.

"Number one: who did your friends use, and was it a good move. How long has the company been in business?"

For moves charged by weight, customers can ask to be present when their goods are being weighed.

You may think you can't be charged more than 10 per cent above the original quote. But that's not the case if the contract stipulates that the price is based on final weight.

Consumers can also ask for a reweigh of their goods at public scale if they are concerned about the final weight they are quoted. But some contracts stipulate that any reweighing needs to take place before the goods are dropped off, or only allow this if there is a public scale within a certain number of kilometres from the customer's delivery location.

Carney suggests asking for an in-home estimate from companies before signing a contract.

"Get a written estimate, make sure it's in writing," he said. "Get a list of the articles that are going to be moving. Make sure you have the terms and conditions of the contract."

CBC's Marketplace looks at 3 companies with recurring complaints of unpleasant surprises on delivery charges 1:49