It was supposed to be a simple move into storage for Marilyn and Tony Horwath.
“We were renovating the downstairs and needed to put things in storage,” Marilyn explained.
They picked Johnson Moving and Storage, which quoted $99 per hour for the move. It seemed like a good deal at the time. The couple was shocked when the owner tacked on a $150 fee because their check had the wrong date.
“It was 2018 but coming from 2017, and I wrote 17 on the check,” Marilyn explained.
The couple say problems continued once their items were in storage.
“Now instead of $99 per month it is $199 per month,” Marilyn explained her frustration. “That’s just what we have to pay because they have our stuff hostage.”
Once they were ready to move home, the moving cost nearly tripled. To move out of their home and into storage, they paid $544. But to move back home from storage, they were charged $1500.
Comparing the bills, News 2 discovered that initially two men moved the furniture into storage in 5.5 hours. But they were charged for three men working eight hours to move the furniture from storage back home.
“They get your furniture and hold you hostage,” Marilyn told News 2 from her Charleston home.
One of the company owners, Molly Johnson, says that’s not true. The charge increased because the family changed their move-home date several times. And their items took up more space in storage than the Johnson’s first anticipated.
“Once it’s in vaults, we charge according to space. They had some pretty large, heavy furniture,” Molly wrote via email.
Molly says the moving industry is highly regulated and so are their fees.
“The public service commission requires each company has a tariff,” she explained. “The tariff includes charges and any other rules and regulations related to that one company.”
That business model must be submitted to state regulators before a company begins operating. Each company is regularly audited to make sure they are billing correctly. Before taking the job, the Johnson’s sent their prices to the Horwaths, but a formal estimate was never completed.
In the last year, the Office of Regulatory Staff, the agency that oversees moving companies, received ten complaints about Johnson’s Moving and Storage. Three haven’t been investigated yet and lack sufficient evidence. Two were settled between the moving company and the client. The remaining five revealed “minor infractions” including both over and under charging customers, according to an agency official.
Molly believes the real issue for the Horwaths is their damaged furniture claim.
“They were not satisfied with how much they were getting for that damage,” she explained.
They were reimbursed 60 cents per pound for each item damaged, including two chests, their dining room table and chairs. In this case, the claim totaled $246 based on national standards of furniture weight.
Molly recommends familis consider buying extra insurance.
State regulators tell News 2 the biggest problem in the moving industry in South Carolina is that companies under quote projects to get the job. Once they are hired, they charge the customer much more during the move. The rate per hour doesn’t change from the tariff, but the total number of hours often increases from the quote. Regulators advise getting multiple quotes but warn quotes are enforceable prices.
Consumer experts warn when deciding on any service provider, the best bet is looking at reviews online to gauge other peoples’ experiences. Price should not always be the determining factor.