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Interstate Moving Regulation: A Brief History

interstate moving

Table of Contents

Interstate moving has become a prominent feature of our modern economy, allowing individuals and businesses to easily relocate their household goods and offices across state lines. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 8.2 million people moved from one state to another in 2022. While it may seem like a routine practice, the lack of regulation in the long distance moving industry has profound implications. This article delves into the history of this industry and explores the consequences of its unregulated state.

The Early Days of Interstate Moving

Interstate moving traces its roots back to the early 20th century when people started relocating to different states in search of opportunities. With the advent of improved transportation systems, such as railways and highways, the need for professional moving services arose.

At first, the interstate moving industry consisted mainly of small, local moving companies that offered to transport household goods from one state to another. These services were often provided by individuals who owned trucks and were willing to undertake long-distance journeys.

The Birth of Interstate Moving Industry

As the demand for interstate moving services grew, entrepreneurs recognized the potential for profit. Companies specializing in long-distance moving emerged across the country, offering comprehensive services to customers.

These early movers transformed the industry by providing specialized trucks, trained personnel, and a wide range of services such as packing, loading, transportation, and unloading. Their efforts laid the foundation for a dedicated and professional interstate moving industry.

The Absence of Regulation in the Early Years

Deceptive business practices in the transportation of household goods have continued to increase year over year. Inadequate consumer protection and the lack of enforcement by the FMCSA is by no means a new problem.
During the early years of interstate moving, there were minimal regulations in place to govern the industry. Companies operated with little oversight, leading to several concerning practices.

Prior to its termination in 1996, the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was the country’s first independent regulatory agency. Founded by Congress in 1887, the ICC was originally established to prevent railroad monopolies, market manipulation, and rate abuses that attended them. The ICC’s regulatory authority grew as it assumed responsibility over other modes of transportation. With the Motor Carrier Act of 1935, Congress granted the ICC regulatory authority over the transportation industry. Congress included oversight of the precursor to today’s household goods moving industry within oversight of the trucking industry. However, by the 1960s, consumers and advocacy groups increasingly complained that the ICC did not adequately regulate the household goods moving industry. As early as the late 1960s, consumer advocates recognized the unequal position of the private consumer relative to the household goods moving industry, a sentiment that unfortunately still resonates today.

Consumer exploitation was rampant, with numerous reports of price gouging, damaged or lost belongings, and dishonest business practices. Without clear guidelines, customers were left vulnerable to unscrupulous movers who took advantage of the lack of oversight.

The economic implications were also significant. With no regulations ensuring fair competition, established companies monopolized the market and dictated prices. This lack of competition hindered economic growth and put smaller businesses at a disadvantage. Today, these similarities of monopolization can are echoed by the numerous moving lead providers, advertising the same handful of moving brokers.

Critics of the ICC aptly observed that private consumers moving their household goods may need more protection than corporate or governmental shippers. Indeed, the individual household relocating their furniture to a new city is not a corporation, or government entity, shipping with customized contracts, and as a result is at a distinct disadvantage. Because the private consumer is likely to use a household goods moving company only once or twice in a lifetime, the private consumer lacks the promise of future business as an incentive for good service and honest billing.

To make matters worse, the private consumer’s lack of personal bargaining power is compounded by a lack of legal bargaining power. Consumers lack legal bargaining power because they are unable to meaningfully enforce their rights through the courts or through the agency charged with oversight of the industry. The private consumers’ lack of commercial and legal bargaining power led to the same chief complaints that are voiced today.

Exit ICC, Enter the FMCSA

In 2001, the United States General Accounting Office (GAO) found that consumer complaints had increased significantly in the five years since Congress had terminated the ICC. During that time, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) did little to respond, and in subsequent years, consumer complaints continued to increase. By terminating the ICC, Congress dramatically changed the regulation of the household goods moving industry. Most obviously, Congress abolished the ICC and shifted much of its regulatory authority to the DOT. In doing so, Congress provided the DOT with authority to regulate the household goods moving industry. At the same time, a House Committee Report directed the DOT “not to intervene and help resolve individual complaints—as was the practice of the ICC.” Therefore, consumers could no longer rely on a neutral government agency to serve as an arbiter when consumers complained about their moving companies. This cut off a major avenue to recourse, forcing wronged consumers to seek redress by dealing directly with the moving companies or by going through the courts.

The changes made in the wake of the ICC’s termination proved to erode consumer protection. The DOT made limited efforts to regulate the industry, and in 1999, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a subagency within the DOT, assumed responsibility for the industry. On January 1, 2000, the FMCSA was established. This regulatory body aimed to ensure the safety and integrity of the interstate moving industry by implementing rules and guidelines for movers to follow.

Under the FMCSA’s oversight, interstate movers were required to obtain licenses, adhere to specific safety standards, and provide transparent pricing to customers. These regulations brought about a significant shift in the industry, providing consumers with much-needed protection and fostering fair competition among moving companies.

As the interstate moving industry continued to evolve, additional regulations were introduced to address various concerns. These included assigning DOT numbers, regulations on insurance coverage, dispute resolution processes, and mandatory arbitration for customer complaints.

Today, the interstate moving industry operates under a comprehensive regulatory framework that ensures the safety, reliability, and fair treatment of consumers. The efforts of early movers and advocates paved the way for a more transparent and accountable industry.

The FMCSA’s Regulatory Measures

The FMCSA’s uniform fine assessment procedure can be found here. In summary, the association can fine a mover a civil penalty for changing a price that differs from their tariff or exceeding the price on a binding estimate by more than 110%. Furthermore, the FMCSA may fine a moving company $500 for each and every violation of any of its statutory duties, and a “separate violation occurs each day the violation continues.” Consumers may file household goods or other commercial motor carrier complaints on FMCSA’s nationwide complaint hotline at 1-888-368-7238 (1-888 DOT-SAFT). A commercial complaint form is now available online at The Safety Violation and the Consumer Household Goods Commercial Complaint Website.

In recent years, the organization has also developed these official resources to protect consumers:

Protect Your Move Brochure
Ready To Move Brochure
Rights and Responsibilities Handbook

The Lack of Enforcement

Although the GAO found that the FMCSA, and the DOT more generally, failed to adequately protect consumers, fairness requires giving consideration to recent efforts by the FMCSA to improve consumer protection. The absence of regulatory enforcement in interstate moving has far-reaching consequences, affecting both consumers and the broader economy.


One of the key issues stemming from the lack of enforcement in the long distance moving industry was the prevalence of rogue movers and unethical brokers. These unscrupulous companies often operated without proper licenses or insurance, putting customers at risk of falling victim to scams or hostage situations. Consumers, in their search for affordable moving options, would unwittingly hire these rogue movers, only to face a myriad of problems such as late deliveries, damaged goods, or even goods being held hostage for additional payment.

Consumer Exploitation in the Moving Industry

Without the proper enforcement and regulatory oversight, some moving companies engaged in deceptive practices, exploit consumers who were unaware of the risks involved. Prices often skyrocket unexpectedly, and customers had little recourse for seeking redress.

Furthermore, incidents of damaged or lost items were common, causing emotional distress and financial burden for those who trusted these companies with their belongings. The lack of accountability meant that victims of such circumstances often struggled to find recourse or compensation.

Moreover, the absence of standardized contracts and transparent pricing further exacerbated the vulnerability of consumers. Many moving companies would lure customers in with low initial quotes, only to tack on hidden fees or surcharges later in the moving process. This lack of transparency made it difficult for consumers to budget effectively and compare prices across different moving companies, leading to a sense of helplessness and frustration.

The Economic Implications of Unregulated Interstate Moving

The unregulated nature of the interstate moving industry had a significant impact on the economy. Large moving companies, enjoying their monopolistic position, could dictate prices without fear of competition.

This lack of price control stifled economic growth, as individuals and businesses faced inflated costs when moving across state lines. The absence of fair competition limited the options available to consumers and hindered mobility, ultimately impeding economic development.

Furthermore, the unchecked power of these dominant moving companies had ripple effects on related industries. Suppliers of moving equipment and materials, as well as ancillary service providers, found themselves at the mercy of these companies’ pricing strategies. The lack of regulation allowed for unfair business practices to thrive, creating an uneven playing field that disadvantaged smaller businesses and entrepreneurs in the moving ecosystem.

The Role of Government in Interstate Moving

The consequences of the unregulated state of interstate moving are evident. Various levels of government have recognized the need for intervention to protect consumers and promote fair business practices. Despite strong federal criminal enforcement actions against household goods moving companies, consumer complaints have dramatically increased. The FMCSA’s primary method for improving consumer protection is through outreach and education rather than enforcement actions against violators. While outreach and education are important, many consumers remain unprotected without aggressive and consistent enforcement. Furthermore, when the FMCSA does take enforcement action, it focuses on patterns of complaints rather than specific complaints from individual consumers. Although this approach maximizes the impact of the FMCSA’s limited resources, it leaves many individual consumer complaints unaddressed.

While acknowledging the significant impact of the efforts of the FMCSA, the rise in consumer complaints of fraud and abuse clearly shows that the federal government’s efforts have not been sufficient in deterring dishonest moving companies intent on defrauding consumers.

State Governments and Their Involvement

While the federal government took the lead in regulating interstate moving, state governments also played an important role. Many states introduced their own regulations to supplement the federal framework, allowing for additional consumer protection measures.

State-level involvement meant that the specific needs and concerns of local consumers could be addressed more effectively. It also allowed for closer monitoring and regulation of moving companies operating within specific states, thereby improving accountability and service quality.

The Attempts at Regulation

Although the introduction of the federal and state-level regulations marked progress, enforcing effective regulations in the interstate moving industry proved to be a challenging endeavor.

The FMCSA has made serious and gradually improved efforts to eradicate the problem of interstate movers who willfully violate federal regulations to prey on vulnerable consumers. Despite those efforts, the problem persists and consumer complaints have increased dramatically. Both the FMCSA and Congress agree that the federal government does not, by itself, have the resources to police and deter predatory interstate moving companies. The FMCSA has sought authority to allow state attorneys general to enforce federal household goods consumer protection regulations.


The Challenges in Implementing Regulations

The diverse nature of the interstate moving industry, with a multitude of companies operating across various states, posed implementation challenges. Coordinating efforts between federal and state authorities, ensuring compliance, and addressing emerging issues proved to be an ongoing struggle.

Consumer remedies available under federal law have not deterred those moving companies who willfully prey on consumers. While Congress has correctly noted that the majority of moving companies operate honestly and within the law, the number of movers that prey on consumers by willfully violating federal laws has grown.

To address these challenges, continuous evaluation and refinement of regulations have been necessary, requiring close collaboration between government agencies, industry stakeholders, and consumer advocacy groups.

The Current State of Interstate Moving Regulations

Over time, interstate moving regulations have evolved, adapting to changing industry dynamics and addressing emerging challenges.

moving trucks

Effectiveness of Modern Regulations

Today, federal and state regulations continue to govern interstate moving, with the aim of protecting consumers and ensuring fair business practices. Improved licensing procedures, industry certifications, and enhanced transparency in pricing have gone a long way in addressing the earlier concerns.

In analyzing whether consumer remedies are currently sufficient, it is important to keep in mind that consumer remedies perform different functions. Consumer remedies may, of course, compensate consumers for wrongs that they have suffered, but they may also deter companies that might otherwise engage in illegal conduct.

Not only have current consumer remedies failed to effectively deter predatory moving companies, such companies have also steadily grown in number. Without exception, consumer remedies for overcharging, delay, loss or damage of goods, and general damages have been on the books since the ICC was abolished in 1996. Nevertheless, consumer complaints have risen
significantly since then, and the number of movers who willfully violate regulations to prey on consumers has increased. While it is true that this increase may be largely attributable to the diminished regulatory role of the DOT and the FMCSA as compared to their predecessor, the ICC, that does not decrease the need to find a solution that provides consumer protection. The
practice of holding goods hostage highlights the need for additional consumer protection.

Using bait and switch tactics, followed by holding goods hostage, is one type of predatory practice that has persisted despite the federal regulatory scheme and existing consumer remedies. Though federal regulations have long
provided that an interstate carrier must relinquish a consumer’s shipment upon payment of 110% of the original contract price, this longstanding federal regulation has not prevented unscrupulous moving companies from holding
goods hostage.

Despite attempts at regulation and enforcement, challenges persist and the necessary reform has not been implemented. The rapid growth of online-based moving platforms and deceptive marketing companies, for instance, has brought new complexities that require constant evaluation and adaptation of existing regulations.

The Future of Interstate Moving Regulations

Looking forward, the future of interstate moving regulations lies in striking a balance between consumer protection, industry growth, and technological advancements. As the industry continues to evolve, regulations must be flexible enough to accommodate innovation while maintaining a focus on protecting consumers and fostering fair competition.

Efforts to streamline regulatory processes, foster collaboration among industry stakeholders, and leverage technological advancements will be crucial in shaping the future of interstate moving regulations.

In conclusion, the lack of regulation in the early years of interstate moving had significant consequences for consumers and the economy. However, through increased government intervention, the industry has undergone substantial transformation with much more room to grow. While challenges remain, current regulations aim to protect consumers and promote fair business practices. As the interstate moving landscape continues to evolve, it is vital that regulations adapt to address emerging complexities and maintain their focus on fostering consumer protection and promoting growth in the industry. The U.S. Moving Protection Organization calls upon the Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of Inspector General, and the Office of Attorney General to come together and enforce regulations that affect millions of vulnerable shippers in our nation.

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