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An end to moving violations

Published Apr. 13, 2002|Updated Sep. 3, 2005

Movers quoted James Balderrama $4,000 to transport his household contents from California to Florida last June. When they demanded $12,000 to release the family's possessions in Orlando, he refused to pay, and the movers held the goods for ransom.

"It was the worst feeling I ever had in my life," said Balderrama, 39, a mortgage loan officer, "when you are sleeping on the floor of an empty house, using an ice chest for a refrigerator, and you are about to start a new job."

But with the new Florida Mover Regulation Act passed last month, Balderrama hopes no one else will have to go through what he and his wife and child endured at the hands of a Miami van line.

This tough new consumer protection act is "designed to stop thieves and extortionists that have been preying on the public," said Robert Skrob, president of the Florida Movers and Warehousemens Association.

Starting July 1, movers must deliver the goods into the consumer's home for the amount of the written estimate. Movers may not demand payment before delivery.

"It took a little over a month to get our stuff back," Balderrama said. "I decided I would rather give the money to lawyers or investigators than to the movers."

"We found out where it was stored and got a court order to get it back from a storage unit in Georgia. It cost me a job," Balderrama said, because he spent so much time in pursuit of his property.

The law applies only to moves originating and terminating in Florida, not to moves between states.

Jeremy Flinn, general manager of Robert Flinn Moving and Storage in Naples and vice chairman of the state movers' group, said the new laws have been a long time coming. He credited some high-profile scams for prompting legislators to act.

Flinn said unscrupulous moving companies have given the industry a bad image besides taking business away from reputable firms.

"Until now, it was a civil matter, so if you called the sheriff and said these people were trying to steal from you, they couldn't do anything about it. Now there are criminal penalties for anyone who tries to take advantage of consumers in that way," Flinn said.

Balderrama said dishonest movers change their names and addresses regularly, so blacklisting hasn't been very effective. Now they must register with the state, so it will be harder for them to stay ahead of the law.

He set up a Web site _ www.movingadvocateteam.com _ and got in contact with other victims. He blitzed the media with stories of others who had been taken. Through the site, he learned what has happened to others.

"They literally steal your life. Sometimes they auction your stuff off, or they dump it," he said.

Flinn said about half the states regulate movers. The industry was deregulated under President Reagan, leaving it up to the states to make their own rules. Earlier efforts to regulate movers in Florida have failed.

To read the full text of the bill, go to Balderrama's Web site (www.movingadvocateteam.com) and click on "Related Links and News Reports," then on the link to Florida House Bill 893.

Up next:HOUSE VALUES
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