Movers deliver only half of family's belongings — and dump the rest
Nightmare Halifax-to-Toronto move raises questions about lack of industry regulations
It was bad enough the Halifax moving company arrived hours late to the family's new home in Toronto, delivered only a portion of their belongings, and that many were broken.
The ultimate kick in the pants was a $452 invoice for illegal dumping the family received after many of their missing items, including dining room chairs, were found discarded 30 kilometres away in a Mississauga, Ont., business park.
Now Jens Casten and his family are issuing a public warning about Big Boys Movers/Halifax Movers, after losing thousands of dollars worth of items, some of them irreplaceable.
"What they're doing is despicable," Casten said.
The case highlights, according to one industry group, the pressing need for the federal government to step in and regulate the moving industry, where there are no rules and complaints about fly-by-night businesses are common.
The Casten family's nightmare started in June 2018 when Jens Casten found Big Boys Movers/Halifax Movers on Kijiji after deciding to move from Halifax to Toronto for work reasons. He said their rates and reviews were good, so he called.
There's uncertainty surrounding those reviews. But the name is the same as another company, Big Boys Movers in St. John's, whose owner said is not affiliated and has even posted a notice online warning people after fielding complaints about the Halifax business.
After contacting Big Boys Movers/Halifax Movers, Casten said three professional-looking men came to his home, walked through, and gave him a price.
The quote was more than he wanted to pay so he asked them to lower it, which they did. He said he was given a contract that was signed with only the first name Sam.
Casten had the company store his belongings for several months in Halifax while his family lived in a furnished rental in Toronto before moving into their permanent home.
He was told everything would be at a reputable storage company, so he paid the $1,100 fee. He also paid another $1,050 upfront to cover half the cost of the move.
However, he had no idea what lay ahead until the moving truck arrived in Toronto in April. At first, the movers refused to take off anything until he paid the second half of the moving costs. He finally gave them $500.
"The first piece they unloaded was the headboard of our $3,000 king-sized bed and it was severely damaged," Casten said, adding the side rails and slats for the bed were missing.
Their children's beds were not delivered. Neither were the pillows for the couch. Neither were the chairs that go with their dining room set, chairs he said will cost $1,000 to replace.
Some of their belongings had been chewed and damaged by rodents. Mementos from Casten's 21-year professional hockey career in Germany were never delivered.
"My trophies, all the pictures. It's all gone. That stuff will never be replaced," he said.
He and his wife tried countless times to contact the company via voicemail and text messages.
"There was absolutely no response," he said.
He went to Toronto police to file a complaint but he was told it was a civil, not a criminal matter.
At that point, he and his wife felt there was nothing more they could do so they put the experience behind them.
But the worst was yet to come.
On May 2, Casten received an emailed $452 invoice from Colliers International in Mississauga for illegal dumping. It said video footage had captured the dumping, and that personal items identified him as the owner.
It also said he had 30 days to pay, a report had been filed with police, and further action may be taken.
"At first I thought it was a scam," Casten said.
'That's pure insanity'
When he opened the attachments and saw pictures of his stuff strewn across pavement beside a dumpster, he said he couldn't believe it. There were four of his dining room chairs, his daughter's bike, his coat, and boxes of other belongings.
"That's pure insanity," Casten said. "It makes absolutely no sense to transport all our stuff from Halifax to Toronto on a truck and then just dump it."
Casten immediately called Colliers, happy he would get his belongings back. But joy was replaced with devastation when he was told everything had already been disposed of.
Even though he explained the situation, he was told he would still have to pay for the cleanup.
After CBC News contacted the company and asked for a copy of the video, Colliers International spokesperson Stephen Hall responded in an email: "Upon further investigation, our video cameras unfortunately did not record the incident."
He also said that based on new information, Colliers "will be rescinding" its invoice to Casten.
Big Boys Movers/Halifax Movers did not respond to multiple voicemails and texts asking for comment. CBC was unable to find any record of the company on the Nova Scotia Registry of Joint Stocks, even though the law requires all businesses operating in the province to register, with a few exceptions.
Casten's experience comes as no surprise to Nancy Irvine, president of the Canadian Association of Movers.
"It's not unusual for low-price, bargain movers that have such a differential price from a professional moving company to pull antics like this and charge more money in order to get your things back, or disappear with your things, or to throw them away if they don't get the money," Irvine said.
She said the problem is a big one, although no one is tracking its scope. Irvine said her association gets about 20 to 30 complaints a year.
She said the problem is the result of industry deregulation in the mid 1980s.
"There are no industry standards, so you and I could get a moving company together tomorrow," she said. "We don't need to have a licence, we don't need to have workers compensation, we don't need to have insurance and we don't even have to have trained guys. We could just get a pickup truck and off we go and we're movers."
She said her organization has lobbied the federal government several times over the past decade but was told there were more important things to deal with.
Reinstating licences for moving companies, she said, would help weed out the bad guys.
Irvine said customers like Casten have very little recourse when something happens since police are reluctant to get involved. She urged anyone looking for a mover to check the Canadian Association of Movers website for a reputable company.
As for Casten, he now realizes he would have actually saved money if he went with a reputable, more expensive mover.
"I hope people learn from this," he said. "I tried to take a shortcut, but at the end of the day I've learned a lesson the hard way and I hope that my lesson will be a warning for other people."