Jacob Beckstead
April 15, 2022
Article type:
Understanding Bailey's Moving
Applies to:
All Moving

What Do You Do If a Mover Withholds Your Possessions?

If you've used a mover, and now the mover refuses to deliver your belongings, it can be incredibly stressful. This is a dire scenario for most. Many people instantly assume that the moving company is acting in bad faith. In many instances, they'd be right. But it might surprise you to know that this isn't always the case.

So, what are the situations where this can occur, and more importantly: What do you do about it?

Understand Your Moving Contract and Avoid Gaps

When you sign an agreement with your mover, keep in mind that this is a legal contract. You need to understand the intent behind the paperwork and details of what you're signing. A good mover will try to explain every portion of the contract before you sign. However, many movers may (intentionally or unintentionally) skip this explanation. It can inadvertently or deliberately create a situation where the moving company knows more about what will happen than you do. We refer to this as a gap of information between customers and moving companies.

That gap shouldn't happen, but it does. To prevent it, learning beforehand everything you can about what will or might occur during the move is essential.

If you have a mover withholding your belongings, this is an excellent example of a gap of information. To start, let's acknowledge that this is almost always a situation which occurs on long-distance moves. Local moves, those less than 50 miles, are typically delivered the day they're loaded. That makes the possibility of movers withholding items pretty unlikely.

But for long-distance moves, it almost always comes down to payment when this happens. The U.S. Department of Transportation regulates interstate moves. From their guide, the "Rights and Responsibilities When You Move" document (which you are entitled to receive before an interstate move), we read the following:

"Your mover must issue you an honest and truthful freight or expense bill for each shipment transported...If you do not pay the charges due at the time of delivery, the mover has the right to refuse to deliver your shipment and to place it into storage at your expense until the bills are paid.

The regulations provide that when your mover arrives at the destination, the mover may collect the charges due before the shipment is unloaded from the truck."

What is Required?

Per the regulations listed above, movers can withhold your shipment delivery until you pay the charges due. This is to prevent customers from scamming moving companies, which happens more than you think. However, there is a limit to what the mover can charge you. This is a detail written for your protection.

We can continue reading from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s interstate moving guide:

"When your shipment is delivered, you will be expected to pay either:

  1. 100 percent of the charges on your binding estimate, or
  2. 110 percent of the charges on your non-binding estimate.

You will also be requested to pay the charges for any services that you requested (for example, waiting time, an extra pickup or delivery, storage) after the contract with your mover was executed that were not included in the estimate, and any charges for services performed in conjunction with impracticable operations, not to exceed 15 percent of all other charges due at delivery. Your mover will bill you after your shipment is delivered for any remaining services."

So, based on that regulation, customers are required to pay something before their items are delivered. In most cases, a customer will dispute how much they owe for the move. They might feel the moving company is unreasonable or tacking on additional, unwarranted charges.

The problem is these disputes need to either be resolved before the shipment is loaded, or else you will need to pay 100% of the charges listed on your estimate (if binding), or up to 110% of charges estimated on a non-binding estimate, plus any services you requested afterward. If you don't do this, the mover will place your items into storage to accrue charges until you pay the owed amount.

Why Is it Required?

This process is required simply because the moving company incurs all the cost of the move at the time of loading and before delivery. So, moving companies came into a quandary: they'd prefer to get paid before conducting work, but customers would choose to pay after all work is completed.

So, how would we proceed? The government created a compromise to protect both sides and find a middle ground. To enforce it, this process is listed in every interstate moving contract distributed to customers. If a customer were to decide not to adhere, it might be costly - and nobody wants that.

So, what do you do? If the mover has upheld their contractual obligation, you'll need to pay the charges to get your belongings. That's your contractual obligation. After paying, you’ll receive access to your items.

What About When You've Done Everything Right?

What do you do when you've upheld your contractual obligation and the movers still aren't delivering? This is common in two main scenarios: new movers who don't understand the federal regulations or scam movers trying to steal your belongings. Both cases are challenging and will likely require arbitration or legal action.

Before undergoing legal action, try to work with the moving company and have them explain to you, based on the "Rights and Responsibilities" document, where they believe you are failing in your obligation. This becomes more difficult, though, in cases of moving fraud.

There are many kinds of moving fraud. One of the most common is when a rogue mover provides a low-cost quote to perform an interstate move, loads your goods onto their truck, then claims your load is over the weight estimate, and the additional weight will be charged at an exorbitant price per pound. Consumers are forced to pay double or higher than the original estimate just to get their belongings back. See our blog on avoiding moving scams.

So, what do you do? There's not typically much that can be done in the moment, as frustrating as it is. Unless you can spur immediate law enforcement action, you may have to pay what is requested.

Ultimately, you'll have to decide if that's what you want to do. Alternatively, with time you may consider legal action to collect damages. We recommend consulting a lawyer for more information on how that process might work.

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud by a moving company or moving broker, you can file a complaint with the FMCSA. They'll investigate your case and decide whether any laws have been broken. Your complaint may trigger a federal enforcement investigation against the mover. Your complaint will be entered into FMCSA's National Consumer Complaint Database and will be used for analytical and statistical purposes.

Your complaint will be maintained in the company's file as part of its permanent record. If FMCSA decides to take enforcement action against the company, you may be contacted to provide additional information and documentation.

Avoid This Situation

In the end, the best way to avoid this situation is to understand your rights and your responsibilities before you move interstate. Understand the regulations and how they apply to you. It may seem daunting, but it’ll guide you to choose a mover willing to help you. Use resources provided by the FMCSA.

The goal is to feel comfortable that the mover you select has the experience, the trust, and the capability to explain everything that will or might happen during your move so that you go into loading day feeling prepared.