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Background: The Regulation of Household Goods Movers

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enforces Federal consumer protection regulations related to the interstate shipment of household goods (i.e., household moves that cross State lines). FMCSA has held this responsibility since 1999, and the Department of Transportation has held this responsibility since 1995 (the Interstate Commerce Commission held this authority prior to its termination in 1995).

Regulations

The FMCSA regulates interstate household moves under the authority of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), which Congress passed in 2005. Interstate moving companies must seek authority from the FMCSA to conduct household goods moves and must comply with Federal requirements. For example, household goods carriers must meet licensing and registration requirements, comply with rules related to estimates and the release of goods, and provide consumers with information related to their rights and responsibilities. The FMCSA regulates about 4,800 interstate household goods carriers and 500 household goods brokers.

An estimated 35 million American households move each year, including about 600,000 moves where consumers hire a moving company to assist them with a move that crosses State lines. These interstate moves are regulated by the FMCSA (moves entirely within the boundaries of one State are regulated by State law). While most of these moves are conducted without incident, a significant number leave consumers dissatisfied, overcharged, or without their personal possessions. FMCSA has established a Web site (http://nccdb.fmcsa.dot.gov) and a toll-free hotline (1-888-368-7238) to receive consumer complaints about interstate moves.

Consumer Awareness

While both the FMCSA and State enforcement agencies can take legal action against dishonest movers, public education is critical: The more the moving public knows about dishonest movers and good moving practices, the better able individual consumers will be to avoid becoming victims.

Enforcement & Compliance

The FMCSA administers a comprehensive household goods compliance and enforcement program that uses education, outreach, and enforcement strategies to reduce moving fraud and to increase compliance with Federal regulations. The FMCSA's national household goods compliance and enforcement program promotes increased compliance through data analysis, investigations, enforcement, and education and outreach activities.

Responsibility for household goods enforcement and compliance activities within the FMCSA is shared by:

  • the Commercial Enforcement Division (including the Household Goods Enforcement and Compliance Team), which sets overall policy, analyzes data and directs enforcement activity;
  • several dedicated Commercial Enforcement Specialists and over 100 Field Investigators, who conduct roadside inspections and compliance reviews (the FMCSA assessed over $1 million in penalties during Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010 against movers who failed to comply with Federal regulations);
  • Field Administrators, who oversee the household goods program for States within their areas;
  • Division Administrators, who formulate enforcement plans and implement planned activities within their States;
  • the Outreach Division, which conducts consumer education and outreach efforts, including maintaining the Protect Your Move Web site; and
  • the Communication Division, which receives complaints via a hotline and the National Consumer Complaint Database.

Partnership

In addition, the FMCSA coordinates household goods activities with State and local authorities such as consumer affairs divisions, attorneys general, departments of transportation and licensing agencies. These agencies provide information to consumers, handle consumer complaints, confirm state licensing compliance and enlist local law enforcement agencies as needed. SAFETEA-LU permits the FMCSA to delegate its enforcement authority to State regulatory agencies and State Attorneys General; the FMCSA is in the process of finalizing arrangements with several States to delegate this authority so that States can become full enforcement partners.

The FMCSA also works with industry associations and groups to increase consumer and carrier understanding of household goods regulations.


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