TAMPA, Fla. — The pandemic triggered a massive migration to Florida. An estimated 700 people move here every day. Some of those new residents are making complaints about their movers. I-Team investigator Jackie Callaway found laws that are supposed to protect consumers are weak and ineffective.
A record number of consumers filed complaints against their movers with Florida regulators in 2021. Between January and early November, nearly 1,200 people reported problems with a moving company to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. That's on track to double the number from 2020.
The Sullivan family said their move to Florida this year turned their world upside down after the company failed to show up with their belongings within the estimated 10 days outlined in the contract.
“We had just moved here and had nothing,” Jessica Sullivan said.
A month later, the Sullivans were still waiting, despite the contract's 30-day legal limit to deliver the goods. They purchased a couch and air mattresses, so their girls had a place to sit and sleep.
“I called multiple times a day and we kept getting different answers,” Jessica said.
The Better Business Bureau receives an average of 13,000 complaints about movers every year. They've given an “F” rating to more than 1,300 companies because of unresolved complaints.
In Sullivan's case, the company said their balance had increased and she owed them more money.
I-Team investigator Jackie Callaway emailed Cross Country Movers and the company delivered the family’s belongings days later. But Sullivan said they are still missing nine boxes, most containing items that belong to her 14-year-old daughter.
“She's devastated because it can't be replaced.”
The company said they have located one of the missing boxes and are looking for the others.
Jackie Callaway checked with Attorney General Ashley Moody and found that in 2019 she sued the owner of the South Florida-based U.S. Moving Services Inc. who, according to the AG’s office, operates under multiple names including Cross Country Movers.
In the complaint the Attorney General states, "Defendants regularly used unskilled, untrained agents who often damaged or stole consumers’ property, and routinely provided deceptive, low ball estimates then extorted higher fees by holding consumers’ property hostage. Defendants have harmed hundreds of consumers..."
In 2020, a judge approved a settlement in the case ordering the company to pay $131,000 in restitution to U.S. Moving Service customers.
ABC Action News called the owner and sent him a text and email, but has yet to receive any response.
Frontline hospital worker Holly Calhoun said her mover, South Florida-based Gold Standard Moving and Storage, canceled the job at the last minute and then kept her $1,300 deposit.
“I’ve been trying to get a refund since early August,” said Calhoun.
She said the company added a great deal of stress to her move to Boston.
When asked, the company would not say if they had refunded the money
Records show 636 complaints against Gold Standard Moving and Storage with federal regulators and the Better Business Bureau.
Florida’s Attorney General confirms it has received 125 complaints against the company. Gold Standard’s manager, who is connected to three other moving companies, told ABC Action News that he had no comment.
Samantha O’Laker, owner of the Tampa Bay-based Three Guys Moving LLC, said consumers need to be careful when looking for a moving company.
“We recommend you get an in-home estimate so that you can hold the company accountable,” she said.
Federal regulators issued this guide for consumers on how to protect their next move.
Florida Senator Ed Hooper has vowed to draft legislation to crack down on movers and better protect consumers.
“Obviously they know the worst that is happening is a slap on the wrist and a fine,” Hooper said after reviewing the information gathered for this report.
Hooper said he later met with state regulators and the AG’s office to come up with a proposed bill that would put some teeth into Florida’s moving laws. He’s found at least one member of the House who has agreed to support similar proposed legislation, he said, with the hope of getting it passed in the spring session.