This Unit investigates alleged or apparent violations of the Public Utilities Code, Commission regulations, and other California statutes involving household goods carriers, commonly referred to as moving companies. The CPUC has jurisdiction only over California intrastate transportation, that is, when the move both originates and ends up in California. Moves crossing state lines are under the jurisdiction of the Office of Motor Carriers of the Federal Highway Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation (main office in California: (916) 498-5050).
All movers offering or performing California intrastate transportation are required to have an active CPUC permit, and public liability and cargo insurance on file with the Commission. The majority of the Unit's efforts involve the detection and abatement of movers advertising and operating without CPUC permits. These movers, known as "bandits," expose the public to significant harm, and have a tremendous, unfair economic advantage over their lawful competitors. The Unit has many tools at its disposal for controlling the bandit mover problem, including stings, intervening with moves in progress, administrative fines, criminal and civil prosecution, and injunctions. Public Utilities Code Section 5322, is being used extensively by the Unit. This law allows Special Agents to obtain a magistrate's finding that telephone service is being used by an unlicensed mover to violate the law. The finding is then used to obtain an order directing the utility providing the telephone service to disconnect it. The statute requires a prior written warning to the mover. (Telephone subscribers whose service is disconnected under this procedure are entitled to a hearing before a Commission ALJ within 21 days.) Since movers rely heavily on telephones to obtain and conduct their business, this procedure has proven to be extremely effective.
Occasionally, a mover comes along who simply uses the "moving" business as a front for the extortion of money from his customers, and the theft and embezzlement of their property. One such unlicensed mover, Larry Phillips, is currently serving a nine-year prison term in southern California, having been convicted in 1996 of nine felonies, including the theft and embezzlement of money and property, resulting from an Enforcement Branch investigation. Phillips and his company placed dozens of customers' personal belongings in an open field, exposed to the elements, then demanded more money from some of those customers so he could "locate" their property. Much of the property tendered to this mover was destroyed, or lost and never recovered. Partly in response to that case, the Consumer Services Division sought and obtained legislation, resulting in a new statute, Public Utilities Code Section 5259.5. That law authorizes the Commission to seek relief from a superior court by way of mandamus, injunction, or appointment of a receiver, whenever it determines that a mover has abandoned, or is abandoning, the stored household goods of a customer.
A few licensed movers have also been known to victimize members of the public, and these also demand the attention of the Household Goods Enforcement Unit. Very often, these movers employ various bait and switch tactics, typically beginning with an unlawful, verbal estimate, and concluding with one or more price hikes after the move begins, when the customer has little choice but to pay. This type of case may result in an administrative fine, or an OII, which may conclude with suspension or revocation of the mover's operating authority. Obtaining reparations for victims of unlicensed and licensed movers investigated by the Unit is always a top priority.
Consumer complaints about movers should be referred to the Consumer Intake Unit of the Consumer Services Division at (800) FON 4 PUC. If you're shopping for a mover, a good place to begin is by reading the booklet entitled, "IMPORTANT INFORMATION FOR PERSONS MOVING HOUSEHOLD GOODS (Within California). Movers are required to provide this booklet to all prospective customers upon first in-person contact, or, if possible, to mail it to the customer at least three days prior to the move. Before you hire any mover, get its "Cal T-number," (the CPUC permit number) which is required to be included in all advertising by movers. If you don't find this number, ask the mover for it. Then call the CPUC at (800) 877-8867 to verify that the permit is valid and active.