Lyra Howell and Wes McClintock moved halfway across the country with plenty of time to get settled before Howell began her new job — or so they thought.
The couple took a “leap of faith” when Howell accepted a position at a school in Saint John, N.B. They signed a moving contract with a well-known firm, North American Van Lines, to move their belongings. They watched the movers load a van on July 14 and soon drove east from Toronto to see New Brunswick for the first time.
“North American Van Lines gave us a four-day window for delivery — July 19 to 22,” said McClintock, a sound engineer. “On August 12, almost a month later, we got a notice that the truck will probably be leaving Toronto tomorrow.”
In between the promised delivery date and the loading notice, Howell and McClintock were stressed and frustrated. Was this a transaction they would regret, despite the company’s reasonable reputation? Were their belongings safe? Most of McClintock’s recording gear, which he needed for work, was in transit along with all of their furniture and household items.
“I had insurance on all of my stuff, but it’s my whole life in the hands of this company and they can’t even give us straight answers,” McClintock said.
The couple finally purchased a couch and some houseware items, knowing they would be redundant once the truck arrived with their possessions.
“Our lives have been put on hold,” McClintock said while they awaited their delivery. “We’re still squatters, sleeping on a ‘lovely’ air mattress.”
Added Howell, “We had to spend a lot of money we hadn’t planned on for duplicates of things we already own.”
They called and emailed North American Van Lines regularly but couldn’t get information about why their belongings hadn’t been delivered or when they would arrive. They were told the items were in a Toronto warehouse and the use of subcontractors was mentioned, too, but specifics were hard to obtain, the couple said.
“There was a total lack of communication and no one was accountable,” said Howell. “They wouldn’t say what the problem was.”
Just as worrisome was the realization that the company had their credit card information and could charge them at any time, with or without a delivery.
Finally, on Aug. 17, their belongings were delivered “even though they said August 16 was the latest,” said Howell. “North American Van Lines outsourced the move to Rent-A-Son, a Toronto moving company, because they apparently were so overwhelmed by moves and had no drivers. However, we never really did get any clear answers.
“They also charged my credit card six days before the truck arrived. I emailed customer service asking whether I needed to go to the police. It felt as if our belongings were stolen; it’s a helpless feeling.”
Luckily, McClintock’s recording equipment arrived undamaged, but they are still without their bicycles, which have been located in a Toronto warehouse.
A North American Van Lines representative said, via email, that while they don’t comment on specific cases, “North American’s commitment is to delivering a smooth and fully satisfactory moving experience with respect, care and attention to detail for every move, big and small.
“While we are always disappointed to learn of any customer dissatisfaction with the moving experience, we have an established and federally regulated claims process and are committed to working diligently to rectify any situation.”
Meanwhile, friends of the couple who also moved to New Brunswick not long after the couple’s own arrival in the province are still waiting for North American Van Lines to deliver their belongings.
“They’re already 10 days late,” said Samantha Chappell, who will be teaching at the same school as Howell. “We got an email from them that looked like it had been cut and pasted and cited COVID-19 reasons. That’s getting old.
“Then, they told us they had no drivers. I feel sympathetic, but there should have been more communication. They should have been honest up front, but they don’t want to give the customer an out.”
“We email them a couple of times a week, cycling through all the different contacts until we get an answer,” said Chappell’s partner, Lucas Brake.
Thankfully, Howell and McClintock had warned them of their own misfortune, so Chappell packed some camping cookware and items to help see them through, and the other couple has shared their own belongings.
“Still, I didn’t pack for work, so if our belongings don’t arrive in time for the school year, I’ll have an added expense,” Chappell said.
Nancy Irvine, president of the Canadian Association of Movers, is dismayed by the couples’ experiences, but not shocked.
“On a macro level, the moving/relocation industry in general has been experiencing unprecedented demands as consumers are moving — the real estate market is hopping — and movers are facing supply chain challenges for moving materials like paper, boxes and wood to build crates and containers, and a lack of manual labour and equipment,” Irvine said via email.
“This has all happened at the same time and has caused capacity issues throughout the U.S. and Canada — and really around the world,” Irvine added.
Nonetheless, said McClintock, “If they’d told us of the backlog, I would have loaded a U-Haul and driven it myself. The moving company saw dollar signs and just booked as many moves as they could.”
Rocco G. Scocco, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in commercial loans and consumer litigation, said it’s good news that a delay was the major problem.
“I’ve dealt with movers who increase the price dramatically from the quote — after they have your goods in their warehouse,” Scocco said.
He suggested that when there is a breach of contract there should be something in exchange, but, “if the contract didn’t state that time was of the essence, it might not be considered a breach.”
Scocco suggests looking at the duplicate goods they purchased, the inconvenience they suffered and any interference with employment in discussing compensation with the movers.
“There has to be a significant refund and they have to get our other items to us, too,” said Howell with frustration. “If we’d known up front about the delay, we would have prepared differently.”
Tips for avoiding moving mishaps
- Check the mover’s record with the Better Business Bureau.
- See if they are members of the Canadian Association of Movers and whether there are complaints lodged against them.
- Review the Canadian Association of Movers’ fraud alerts and relevant protection information online.
- Check into the mover’s insurance.
- In checking Google reviews, look for the negative ones; problematic companies often bury them at the bottom.
- Get written estimates in advance from at least three different providers.
- Don’t just focus on price — that super-low cost could mean added fees later on.
- Real moving companies have brick-and-mortar storefronts. A search on Google Maps should reveal the truth.
- Bona fide moving companies will send an estimator to your home, and you’ll receive a written estimate and a contract well in advance of moving day.
- Ensure that the contract contains the phrase, “Time is of the essence;” this can assist with any breach of promise compensation.
- When the movers arrive to pack your belongings, as for a scale certificate that lists the truck’s empty weight so you can calculate the poundage to ensure fair charges.
Source: Rocco G. Scocco, Canadian Association of Movers, Cassidy’s Transfer and Storage
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