The Battle to Regulate App-Based Movers

Posted in: I'm a Mover, Moving Industry News, Regulations

Well, those government regulators are at it again.

The legislation is coming for those “summon random people to move your stuff” apps that work like reaching your hand into a mystery box, yet serve a market that is relatively untouched.

Texas first jumped on the moving wagons back in 2015, citing several start-ups for not having the proper licensing for moving household goods. (These companies have since ironed out their legal wrinkles.)

Now Washington State’s Utilities and Transportation Commission has the app-based moving sector in their sights, last month filing a complaint against Ghosttruck, an app based moving company, for violating state regulations.

For the lowdown we go to GeekWire:

According to the Washington state UTC, officials initially told Ghostruck in 2014 that it could not operate without the required permit. Ghostruck responded at the time to say it acted as a broker, not an actual mover, but admitted to occasionally using the subsidiary Empty Truck as a backup when no movers were available on its platform. Empty Truck lost its permit in December 2014, ‘…because the company failed to provide proof of liability and property damage insurance,’ UTC noted.

In the filing against Ghostruck, UTC staff identified 146 instances where the company worked as a residential mover without the proper permit. Additionally, the investigation found that Ghostruck illegally required customers to enter a contract directly with the company. Because the contracted mover Ghostruck uses may lack the proper permit, insurance and background checks for employees, this puts customers at risk, the UTC said.

CEO Nathanael Nienaber told GeekWire that Ghostruck received little notice of the announcement.

146 obviously isn’t outlier type of number. Nienaber responded not so reassuringly:

“This complaint comes as a real surprise to us,” Nienaber said. “We are still reviewing it and will respond to the Utilities and Transportation Commission through our attorneys.”

This crackdown on app-based moving operations isn’t a stand-alone situation, but one that arises out of the broader effort to stop unlicensed (and often illegal) moving companies from scamming their customers. On the flip side, one could also argue that these efforts havent done as much as they could to solve the scamming problem in the moving industry. Perhaps a new approach is needed.

As stated in this summary of Texas bill HB 1523:

A significant number of con artists who are not registered to transport household goods are scamming Texans, preying particularly on students and on elderly and low-income Texans.

CSHB 1523 would make engaging in or soliciting the transportation of household goods for compensation without registering with the DMV a class C misdemeanor (maximum fine of $500).

One could reasonably argue the spirit of this bill is not meant to include app-based services, particularly where many jobs consist merely of moving one or two pieces of furniture.

Thus for now, Ghostruck will have to follow Burro and Buddytruk and conform their services to the laws presently on the books. What do you think? Would you join one of these apps considering the back and forth legislation? Would you miss the “micro-move” market?

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