Relocation & the Board Make All the Right Moves

Even at the most stately Park Avenue address, relocation is a frequent activity as apartments are bought

and sold and sublet tenants or roommates move in and out. More than 100,000 people hire movers every year in New York City. But while this activity is commonplace, boards need to regulate and monitor relocations, because a lack of vigilance can result in expensive problems and unhappy residents.

Potential Liabilities and Damage

First and foremost, the co-op or condo board should require anyone moving in or out of the building to use a licensed and insured mover. As the result of a law enacted in 1992, all household moves are now regulated by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT). All legitimate companies must be registered with the DOT, and file evidence of insurance. The board should ask the tenant to verify that the vendor is licensed, and require proof of the vendor's certificate of insurance. A current copy should be filed with the superintendent before the relocation is approved. (Residents can obtain the name of a mover's insurance company by calling the DOT at (518) 457-6503.)

Remember that moving is a strenuous physical task, so the odds of someone being hurt on the job are not remote. If a worker with an uninsured company slips and falls in the lobby, chances are they'll look to the co-op board for compensation. Ensuring vendors are qualified and insured is also beneficial to the resident. If the resident's belongings are lost or damaged, it's nearly impossible to get compensation from an unlicensed vendor.

There also exists the possibility of damage to the common areas. Depending on the building's layout and design, the board may want to create a list of materials vendors must provide if they are allowed to work in the building. For example, pushing heavy furniture across hallway carpeting can stretch, ripple and ruin it. If your building contains expensive carpeting, you may want to require that all movers working in the building provide necessary floor protectionmasonite is most effective. The same goes for wall protection. Cornerguards and elevator padding should be standard. Because it can be onerous and time-consuming to ensure compliance on the part of residents and movers, some boards find it worthwhile to invest in protective materials that they can have on hand for subsequent resident relocations.

The board might also consider requiring a damage deposit of $100 to $200 from residents moving in or out. This would cover the cost of a paint job if the mover crashes into a wall during the move. The superintendent should inspect the move site before and after the job, and return the deposit upon assuring no damage has been done. Some residents, of course, relocate with the help of friends and family. You may want to discuss that situation with your building attorney to minimize liability in the event of an injury.

Timing and Logistics

Many buildings require that relocations occur between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, when the building is fully staffed and there are fewer residents to be disturbed. Ideally, the board and superintendent should permit just one household relocation in a given day, and building personnel should be careful to schedule moves around other building activities. These range from the obvious (you don't want elevator maintenance occurring ffb on a day that someone is moving) to the less obvious (the move that occurs the same day another tenant is having renovation materials delivered). Avoid having several residents compete for the service elevator. Such coordination is especially important if the building lacks a service elevator. Too many events in a single day may mean a tenant's move is delayed, and either spills over into evening and disturbs neighbors, or the movers have to come back the next day, at substantial cost to the resident. Coordination will be essential in the prime relocation months of May through October. Also decide what your building policy is regarding garbage, because relocations can generate a lot of waste. If you want it brought to the basement, rather than left in a maintenance hallway at the foot of the garbage chutes, make that clear to residents. And let them know what the penalties are for non-compliance.

A Proactive Approach

In New York State, every licensed mover uses a standard contract stating that the client is responsible for paying actual time a mover spends on the job. The contract gives the mover the right to charge for all extras that occur during the project, even if an extra is caused by the mover's poor planning. If you've lived in New York City long enough, you have no doubt read or seen news reports about vendors who exploit this clause, and take customers for a ride by underestimating the time the job requires and low-balling the price. In the worst cases, devious vendors have been known to hold household goods hostage on the moving truck until a customer pays up.

Advise residents who are moving to call the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the NYS Department of Transportation before hiring a moving company. The BBB receives hundreds of complaints a year about movers, despite the fact that most unhappy customersnine out of ten, according to BBB researchnever complain at all. Both the state and the BBB keep records of complaints received, and this is the best way to check out a vendor.

Or consider conducting a survey of residents about which vendors they used, the quality of their experience and how much they paid to relocate (of course this will vary widely, depending on their origin and destination). Consider publishing the results in a building newsletter, or make a list of vendors that scored well available to residents moving in or out. This kind of proactive approach may help alleviate some of the aggravation residents feel at having to observe strict relocation hours and pay damage deposits. Be sure to note that these are companies who have received favorable reviews from other residents, and not necessarily the recommendations of the board. The quality of moverslike any service companycan change over time.

Should the board advise residents to buy relocation insurance? Generally the board need not take a position on this issue. People who are relocating should be aware that under state regulations, movers are only required to pay a flat fee on damaged goods of 30 cents a pound for hourly moves (local moves) and 60 cents a pound for weight-rated moves (long-distance relocations). This means that your $5,000, 300-pound, leather couchruined after taking a tumble down the stairsis now worth somewhere between $90 and $180. Standard relocation insurance costs $7.50 per $1,000 of coverage; the amount the resident takes out is clearly a personal decision.

While moving appears to be a simple issue of getting from here to there, a closer inspection reveals that it can be an extremely complex affair. And, as they say, the devil is in the details. Co-op and condo boards can avoid the more devilish aspects of relocation with clear policies, careful coordination and a proactive, resident-friendly attitude.

Mr. Hilker, president of Relocation Advisory Services in New York, has 12 years experience in relocation planning and management.

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