The Utilities and Transportation Commission regulates household good moves in Washington.
Companies advertising and/or handling moves within Washington without a permit are violating state law. This requirement protects you, the customer, because movers with a UTC permit must follow state safety, insurance, and service standards.
In addition to safety, movers must offer their services at reasonable rates and within a reasonable time. Movers without a permit operate outside the law with no guaranteed protection for loss or damage to your belongings. While the commission can enforce the law and help protect you when you hire a permitted company, there is nothing the UTC can do if you hire an illegal moving company.
Read this complete guide to make sure you understand your rights and responsibilities when hiring a moving company. You can also use the following links to jump to the topic you need to know more about:
- Before the Move
- Required Documentation
- Loss and Damage Liability
- Paying Your Bill
- Packing, Delivery, and Inspection
Hiring a Mover
When hiring a mover, make sure to shop around and compare your options. You should:
- choose a professional mover with a UTC permit.
- look at customer reviews and complaints.
- get recommendations from people you know and trust who have hired a mover recently.
- ask for and check the company’s references.
- trust your gut – if a company makes you feel uncomfortable, don’t hire them.
- compare costs.
Understand Moving Costs
The commission sets the minimum and maximum rates a mover can charge you for moving services in a document called Tariff 15-C. Companies can choose their rates within the minimum and maximum limits set by the commission, which is why different companies have different costs.
Moving costs are calculated depending on distance:
- Moves 56+ miles: Rates are based on the weight of your goods and the distance hauled.
- Moves 55 miles and less: Rates are based on the number of workers used; the amount of time it takes to load, move, and unload your goods; and the mover’s hourly rate for service.
The mover will list the costs of your move in an estimate.
Moves of 56 Miles or More
To determine the net weight of your shipment, the mover weighs the empty vehicle, then reweighs it after loading your items. You have the following rights, if you request them:
- the mover will notify you of the weight and charges when established,
- you can witness the official weighing, and
- the mover can re-weigh the shipment before final delivery, but you must pay the cost of the second weigh-in.
In addition to having a permit, state law requires movers to provide you with specific documents at each step of the move.
Movers must give you a free written estimate of the cost of your move. While they can give you an informal verbal estimate when you are comparing options, they must provide a written estimate before the move. The estimate should clearly and accurately describe all charges.
There are two types of estimates, non-binding and binding.
- A non-binding estimate is an educated guess the mover provides after reviewing your things. The final cost of your move can be more than your non-binding estimate, but no more than 25% above the estimate (or any supplemental estimate).
- A binding estimate is a written agreement that guarantees the price you pay based on the items to be moved and the services listed on the estimate.
An estimate is only as accurate as the information you provide. When the mover is making the inventory, make sure you tell the mover about every single item to be moved, including items in the attic, basement, garage, shed, closets, and stored under beds. Make sure you and the mover clearly agree on the amount of packing and other services needed.
The mover must make an inventory list of your property for you to sign. Make sure the inventory is legible and accurate. If you disagree with anything on it, note it on the list before signing.
Make sure all notations also appear on the mover’s copy. Without an inventory, you could have difficulty proving a claim.
If the movers end up hauling something that wasn’t included in the estimate, your costs will increase. If anything changes from the time of the original estimate the mover must give you a supplemental estimate to sign before performing the additional services.
Bill of Lading
If a mover does not want to provide a bill of lading, do not hire them.
The bill of lading is your contract with the mover. It includes:
- services the mover will perform,
- when and how they charge for the move, and
- what liability they will assume.
Do not sign your bill of lading until you fully understand it, especially the mover’s liability for loss or damage. Make sure the mover gives you a copy, and keep it safe and available until all your belongings are delivered and unpacked.
You must sign the bill of lading before the truck leaves with your things and sign it again as a receipt upon delivery. The driver should also sign the bill of lading as a receipt that they picked up your belongings. If you cannot read the signature, ask the driver to print their name below.
You will need your bill of lading if you have a dispute with your mover or want to file a claim for loss or damage after the move.
Movers must have mover’s liability for loss or damage to your items during your move. However, their liability will be less than the value of your goods. The mover is not liable for the full value of your property unless you pay an additional charge for that protection.
Mover's Liability versus Insurance
While mover’s liability does give you some protection for damages or losses, it is not the same thing as insurance. Talk to your insurance agent before hiring a mover to see if you need additional coverage.
The amount of mover’s liability depends on the level of protection you select. The more liability the mover takes, the more expensive your cost will be. When selecting your liability option, consider:
- the value of the items being moved,
- how easily the items can be damaged,
- the degree of risk you are willing to accept, and
- the cost of the protection.
There are three options for liability amounts, Option 1: Basic Value Protection, Option 2: Replacement Cost Coverage with Deductible, and Option 3: Replacement Cost Coverage with No Deductible. If you don’t choose an option on the bill of lading, Option 2 is the default.
Basic Value Protection
Replacement Cost Coverage with Deductible*
Replacement Cost Coverage with No Deductible*
|Level of Coverage
$0.60 per pound for each lost or damaged item, regardless of actual value.
Full coverage with deductible.
After deductible, total declared value of items, or $5 times weight, whichever is greater.
Full coverage, no deductible.
Total declared value of items, or $5 times weight, whichever is greater.
$0.55-$1.15 per $100 of declared value.
Declared value can't be less than $5 per pound of total weight.
$0.66-$1.40 per $100 of declared value.
Declared value can't be less than $5 per pound of total weight.
*Note: Option 2 and Option 3 do not apply to:
- antiques, fine arts, painting, statuary, and similar irreplaceable items;
- memorabilia, souvenirs, collector’s items, and other items whose age or history make up a significant part of their value.
Loss and Damage Liability Exceptions
If the mover decides to reimburse you or replace a lost or damaged item, the mover may claim the item as its property.
Items Excluded from Mover Liability
The mover is not responsible for the condition or safe delivery of any of the following items:
- Coins, currency, deeds, notes, postage stamps, letters, drafts, or valuable papers of any kind.
- Jewelry, precious stones, or precious metals.
- Items of extraordinary value.
- Items requiring temperature control.
- Household pets.
- Live plants.
- Perishable items.
- Furniture or other items made of pressboard, particle board or similar pressed material.
Circumstances Excluded from Mover Liability
The mover is not liable for the loss or damage of any article for any of the following circumstances:
- Breakage for self-packed items, unless you can prove the breakage was due to negligence by the mover.
- Internal damage to electronics, when there is no visible damage to the external packaging or contents, or if you packed it.
- Loss or damage from insects, moths, vermin, mold, fungus, or bacteria that develops due to conditions present before the mover picks up your items.
- Loss or damage from disrepair at time of shipment, as long as the mover noted the disrepair on the inventory form.
- Undeclared explosives or dangerous items* in your shipment, including any subsequent loss or damage.
- Defective design, including items easily damaged by atmospheric conditions like temperature or humidity changes.
- Hostile or warlike action or use of any weapon of war. Whether in time of peace or war, if a government or sovereign power, military, or their agent takes action that damages your goods (to combat or defend against terrorism, insurrection, rebellion, revolution, civil war, or usurped power).
- Seizure, confiscation, or destruction under quarantine by order of any government or public authority.
- Disorder, including strikes, lockouts, labor disturbances, riots, civil commotions, or actions by anyone taking part in such a disturbance.
- Acts of God.
*Movers will not accept the following items for shipment:
- dangerous goods; or
- items liable to damage the mover’s equipment or other property.
Unless you make credit arrangements with your mover, you must pay all legal charges before the mover unloads your goods.
If circumstances of the move change — such as giving the mover goods to move that weren't in the original inventory — and charges are more than the written non-binding estimate you received, the mover must unload and release your goods if you pay 110% of the amount of your final estimate. If there is any remaining balance due after paying the 110%, the mover must give you 30 days to pay.
Even if you receive a non-binding estimate, UTC rules limit companies to only being able to charge 25% more than the final estimate.
Be there when your goods are packed, loaded, unloaded, and unpacked.
If you cannot be present when the mover delivers your goods, make sure you appoint someone to act as your agent who can be present. If delivery cannot be made because no one is present, the movers may put your property in storage at your expense.
Review the inventory sheets of all items the mover loads into the truck.
Make sure you agree with the mover’s comments about the condition of the items they are moving, and ask questions if you don’t understand the process, or any documents you are required to sign.
Check for damage while the mover is present.
If there is a box or container that won’t be unpacked right away, you and the mover should inspect it for signs of damage.
- Don’t sign any delivery papers until after you inspect your items and check them against the inventory.
- Record any damages on both copies of the bill of lading and inventory, in case of a claim.
- If you find damaged goods after the mover leaves, set them aside without unpacking and call the mover right away.
You have nine months from the date of delivery to file a loss or damage claim with your mover.
If your shipment is lost or damaged, you can file a claim for loss or damage with your moving company.
- File in writing, after you have paid all legal charges.
- File within nine months from the date of delivery, or expected delivery.
- Include your bill of lading, and enough information to identify the property involved.
- Keep the damaged property - the mover has the right to inspect it.
Your mover must provide all information and forms necessary to file a claim. Once submitted, they have 10 days to acknowledge your written claim.
You should work with your moving company first to try to resolve any claim. If you are unsatisfied with the outcome of the claim with your mover, call the commission. UTC staff can help facilitate negotiations between parties, however we cannot require you or the mover to settle loss and damage claims.
Court of Law
If the mover will not voluntarily settle a claim to your satisfaction, you may file suit in a court of law. Depending on the amount contested, you may be able to use small claims court.
If you are not satisfied with a mover's service, you should first try to resolve your dispute with the mover. Many disputes can be resolved by asking to speak to a supervisor.
After speaking with a supervisor, if you are still not satisfied with the response from your moving company, contact the commission's Consumer Protection Help Line a 1-888-333-WUTC (9882) or file a complaint online.
If, during your move, any of your belongings must be stored either temporarily or long term, the following rules will apply based on the type of storage.
Storage-in-Vehicle (SIV) is when your belongings are temporarily stored in or on the mover's vehicle instead of being moved into a warehouse. Not all companies offer this option since it ties up their equipment for the storage period. The following rules apply for storage-in-vehicle:
- Belongings must not be stored for more than 15 days unless you and the mover agree to an extension.
- The vehicle must be parked in a safe, secured area and always locked.
- The vehicle must be in good condition, not subject to leakage, pilferage, or entry by vermin or insects.
- The mover must continue to accept responsibility for any loss or damage during SIV at the loss and damage protection level selected on the bill of lading.
- The mover will charge for every day your belongings are stored in the vehicle. Your bill of lading must include a note saying you have requested SIV service and agree to pay the state rate.
Refer to the Household Goods Tariff 15-C for latest rate information.
There are three types of warehouse storage: Storage-in-Transit (90 days or less), Permanent Storage (more than 90 days), and Small Goods Transportation and Storage.
If you need warehouse storage, you will pay a fee that covers both the storage rental and costs to move your items in and out of storage. Both the mover and the warehouse must keep the following information:
- an itemized list of stored belongings;
- the bill of lading number;
- the origin and destination points of your shipment;
- the condition of each item when received at and forwarded from the warehouse;
- the dates when all charges, advances, or payments were made or received; and
- the dates when delivered at, and forwarded from, the warehouse.
Storage-in-Transit (SIT) is temporary warehouse storage of your belongings for 90 days or less, pending a move to the final destination. The storage may be in either a warehouse owned by the mover or in a warehouse the mover has chosen as its agent. Either way, the commission regulates the moving and storage rates you pay to the mover. The mover will continue to be liable for loss or damage to your belongings while in SIT, at the value protection level you select when your belongings go into SIT. When your belongings are placed in SIT, the mover may bill you for:
- transporting your belongings from the origin point to the warehouse;
- storage for the first 30-day period;
- warehouse handling; and
- any additional services provided by the mover such as packing materials, overtime charges, and third party billing.
If you don’t remove your belongings from storage within 90 days, your move is considered completed and the following conditions apply:
- Mover's liability ends at midnight on day 90.
- The warehouse becomes the destination point for your belongings.
- Your stored belongings are subject to the rules, regulations, and charges of the warehouse. You will need to deal directly with the warehouse.
- The mover must bill you for all charges accrued to date.
- Permanent Storage
Permanent storage is warehouse storage for longer than 90 days. In this case, the destination of your move is the warehouse. You will pay the mover and the warehouse separately.
Note: permanent storage is not regulated by the UTC. Carefully review any documents you receive from the warehouse.
When you place your belongings in permanent storage, the mover will bill you for:
- transportation to the warehouse;
- charges for loss and damage protection during the move to the warehouse; and
- any other services provided including packing materials, overtime, and third party billings.
The mover's liability for value protection ends when your belongings enter permanent storage.
Many warehouses limit their liability on goods in storage to $0.10 per pound, per article unless you purchase additional protection. This means the warehouse would only pay $1 for a 10-pound broken lamp, even if it is worth more.
You are not required to use the same mover when ending storage. Whether you use your original mover or a new one, you will have to pay for moving your belongings out of storage and all other charges associated with the move.
- Small Goods Transportation and Storage
Small goods transportation and storage is limited to 25 items, called household goods articles, or a maximum of 500 pounds for each customer per week.
A household goods article is a box or item that can reasonably be carried by one person.
In this type of storage, the mover carries small goods from a residence to a warehouse, storage unit, or storage facility owned or rented by the moving company, with the intention of later moving the goods back to you.
Since your goods may be stored with the goods of others, you will not have access to your goods while they are stored. After you pay in full and request your goods, the carrier has three business days to return your goods to you.
Carriers do not have to give you a bill of lading for small goods transportation and storage services, but they do have to give you a contract that lists all the charges you will be billed.
Make sure you understand these charges, and ask the carrier if you have questions.
The UTC only sets rates for the loss and damage valuation protection for small goods transportation and storage service, all other charges are set by the carrier. Charges are based on the level of valuation protection you select.
Other Reasons for Storage
The mover may place your items into storage at the public warehouse nearest the point of destination if your mover is unable to make delivery for any of the following reasons:
- The mover was unable to locate you or your representative at the address you supplied.
- You or your representative refused or were unable to accept delivery.
- You were unable or refused to pay 110% of the amount of the original estimate, if you had a non-binding estimate.
The mover is no longer liable for your goods once they are delivered to the public warehouse. At that point, the shipment becomes subject to the warehouse's liability terms and conditions. The mover must mail or deliver a written notice to your destination address letting you know they were unable to complete the delivery. The notice must also include the name, address, email, and telephone number if available of the warehouse where the shipment is stored.
The written notice must include a statement notifying you that if you don't pick up the shipment within 30 days of the written notice postmark, the mover can dispose of the shipment as outlined in the Washington State Uniform Commercial Code, Chapter 62A.7 RCW.
In addition to a written notice, the mover is required to attempt to notify you with each contact method they have for you, including telephone, email, and fax.