Moving day is always a pain, but it can be infinitely more so if you damage your landlord’s property while trying to skedaddle out of there with all your stuff. And It’s even worse if you aren’t the one who broke the $500 picture window.
If your mover was at fault, it should offer to pay—but things aren’t always that simple. Here’s what happens when movers won’t pony up.
Your landlord has the right to come after you
Don’t expect your landlord to do the legwork of filing a claim. You hired the movers and invited them into the property—from the landlord’s point of view, it’s your responsibility to pay for damages. So you might have to eat the security deposit while you try to get the money back from the moving company.
You’ll have to review your insurance—and theirs
Yeah, we know—you did the responsible thing and took out insurance to cover your goods. Right? The problem is it covers only your goods.
Typical insurance provided during a move—such as coverage of 60 cents per pound, per item— “would not cover any damage done to the landlord’s building or property,” says Kim Weaver, compliance manager at Relocation Insurance Group in St. Louis, MO.
Instead, the moving company would have to use its general liability insurance, or its auto insurance if the damage was done by vehicle. Some companies may have only cargo and auto insurance. When choosing a mover, you should search the U.S. Department of Transportation’s licensing and insurance page for any companies you’re considering, Weaver recommends. There, you can view details about what types of insurance the company is registered for.
Just don’t assume a mover has general liability insurance.
“In my experience, to get licensed in most areas, a mover has to have insurance,” says Troy Doucet, lawyer and owner of Doucet & Associates in Dublin, OH. “That doesn’t mean everyone has insurance.”
And therein lies another problem: If movers don’t have insurance—or are operating illegally—they probably don’t want you to find them. So how in the world can you get them to pay?
You try to track them down
If you used an unscrupulous mover, your “options for pursuing reimbursement will be limited,” says Pete Johnson, co-founder of HireAHelper based in Oceanside, CA.
“The customer could tell the moving company they’re planning to take the issue to small-claims court,” Johnson says. “It might produce results and, if it doesn’t, then they can go ahead and file if they have an address for them.”
That’s a big “if.” Even otherwise official-looking movers may have websites without an office location or employee names listed, making it difficult or impossible to track them down. But if you can, here’s what you should do:
Review copies of all the forms you signed (the moving company is required to give you copies, so make sure you hang on to them). Did you sign a liability waiver? Even if you did, “it may not be enforceable in your state,” says Alicia Dearn, CEO of Bellatrix Law and trial lawyer. This means the company may have tried to trick you into backing down.
Get a lawyer—if only for a letter threatening litigation. “A situation like this is best resolved by negotiation—a letter from a lawyer can really work wonders in these disputes,” Dearn says.
Photograph the damage for evidence.
File a consumer complaint with the state’s attorney general office.
If the mover still refuses to pay, you’ll be looking at settling in small-claims court—it’s up to you to weigh the cost and decide if it’s worth pursuing.