Senate panel advances bill to protect consumers from moving company scams

'This bill is about transparency and accountability.'

A bill that would create new safeguards for consumers against moving company scams is en route to a second hearing after receiving unanimous approval in its first Senate stop.

The measure (SB 304) aims to hold movers and the businesses that connect them with customers more accountable by increasing documentation requirements and banning them from withholding people’s possessions for exorbitant sums.

Members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted to advance it. The bill has two more stops before heading to a floor vote.

“This bill is about transparency and accountability and works to broaden protections for consumers,” said the bill’s sponsor, Palm Harbor Republican Sen. Ed Hooper, who has tried for several Sessions to get it passed.

Hooper said his bill will address a rising trend of predatory practices in the moving industry. It addresses intrastate moves, ones that begin and end within Florida. Movers servicing trips between Florida and other states are subject to federal oversight.

When he carried the bill during the 2022 Session — an effort that stalled out after clearing its first committee — he noted that the Better Business Bureau (BBB) had received more than 30,000 complaints against moving companies in Florida between 2017 and 2019.

The legislation fared better earlier this year, advancing through two of three committees.

An analysis by Newsweek of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year found more than half the 7,647 of the cases involved Florida companies.

The BBB last year recorded more than 15,000 complaints against movers and moving brokers, which act as intermediaries between movers and customers. Hooper said moving brokers contribute greatly to the state’s growing problem.

“Moving brokers do not move furniture. They, for a fee, give an estimate and then sell that to a moving company, and that company can load your equipment up, take it to your new address and demand whatever they want to demand in money before they offload your belongings,” he said.

“This (bill) gives the protection back to the consumer. It says you cannot do that and lays out a series of fixes to that and allows the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to act against moving brokers and moving companies that violate that.”

Hooper’s bill, if passed, would go into effect July 1. It would:

— Ban moving brokers from giving estimates or providing contracts for service that include estimated costs of a move. They would also have to make clear to customers that as moving brokers they only arrange such business and their fees are not included as part of the cost of the actual move.

— Heighten moving broker reporting responsibilities to both consumers and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

— Require moving brokers to work only with moving companies registered to do business in Florida.

— Require moving brokers to maintain either a performance bond or a certificate of deposit in a Florida bank of at least $50,000.

— Require movers to provide signed contracts that include the estimated date and cost of service to customers before providing any moving or accessorial work. The contracts must, among other things, provide contact and locational information for their workers and the goods being shipped or stored; an itemized breakdown of all costs and services for the loading, transportation, shipping and storage of a customer’s belongings during a household move, including the fees of a moving broker if one is used; and a clearly written and conspicuously placed disclosure of all acceptable forms of payment.

Violators would face up to $5,000 fines. If a mover refuses to comply with a law enforcement officer’s direction to relinquish a customer’s household goods after the officer determines the customer paid the agreed-to amount in a written estimate contract, including any amendment to the contract that the customer agreed to by signature, the wrongdoer would be subject to a third-degree felony charge.

Democratic Rep. Allison Tant of Tallahassee has filed a similar measure (HB 367) in the House. It awaits a hearing before the first of three committees to which it was assigned.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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