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Moving house? Wendy on protecting goods from damage

What rights do you have if a removals company damages or loses your precious possessions?

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Listen to Wendy on the topic below, or read the details under the podcast.

The Consumer Protection Act gives us quite a lot of rights. It stipulates that consumers are entitled to get their goods back in at least as good a condition as they were when they made them available to a company to provide a service.

That applies if you hand over your watch for a repair, take your car in for a service, or contact a company to move your household contents to another city.

Most removal companies, if not all, advise you to take out insurance, through them, on the goods while in transit. But that’s a side issue. 

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According to CPA specialist attorney Trudie Broekmann: “A supplier cannot sub-contract their duties under the CPA to an insurer.” 

So the supplier - the removals company you pay your money to - remains liabile.

But if my inbox is anything to go by, consumers have an uphill battle with many removals companies over damaged or missing possessions.

When it comes to damages, the company often claims that the piece of furniture or bedding was in a “bad” state when loaded onto the van, and the consumer has quite a battle on their hands to disprove that claim.

Two Durban cases 

I recently took up two removals gone wrong cases involving East Coasters.

Carey Farrell from Durban bubble-wrapped her collection of iconic Wonki Ware crockery and packed it into boxes for transporting to the family’s holiday home in Knysna. The next time she saw it, it was in pieces.

And her furniture - mostly newly restored pieces inherited from her parents and in-laws - had fresh gouges, cracks and a broken leg, making her convinced that the load had been subjected to some form of trauma.

But Hein Aggenbag - owner of the company she contracted with - Cape Town-based African Furniture Removals, took no responsibility for the damage.

Like many removals companies, he said they take no responsibility for owner-packed boxes, and then he claimed that the furniture was marked as old, marked or scratched on the inventory.

“Being old and slightly worn is very different from being broken or damaged,” Farrell says, and she’s right.

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She wasn’t at home when the goods were collected and she didn’t see the inventory and how they were described until weeks later.

“In future I’ll make sure to take photos of everything as it’s loaded into a removal van, and check how the company has described the condition of each item before the van drives off,” she says. 

Great advice.

Sadly, the Farrells have been left to foot the bill for restoring all their damaged furniture.

She paid R5000 to African Furniture Removals for the April move - including R150 for insurance up to the value of R10 000 that mainly covers an heirloom chest of drawers.

Aggenbag told her the insurance only covered fire, overturning, collision, hijacking and theft - and has refused to refund the cost of the move nor take responsibility for her restoration costs.

He told me he was only “the middle man” and referred me to H&M Removals which he sub-contracted to do the move, but he chose not to respond.  

In the second case, Alain Tardin paid Durban-based Classic Removals to move his household contents to Johannesburg and store them for several months before delivering them to his new home.

He says his beds were ruined by exposure to damp and his fishing reels, listed on the inventory, were missing. The company refused to take responsibility, saying the beds were “in bad condition” on the day they were collected and that the insurance he took out didn’t cover the missing reels as he did not have proof of purchase.

Other consumers have complained on complaints website, HelloPeter of their goods being damaged by moisture after being entrusted to Classic Removals.

Classic Removals’ Jolene de Sousa told me dissatisfied clients made up less than 1% of the company’s clientele.

Tardin had opted not to pay extra for protective wrapping for his beds, she said but had the beds professionally cleaned. 

She said they could “assist” with regard to the missing reels, if some form of proof of purchase could be provided.

Alain didn’t have the receipts but he did have the empty reel boxes and de Sousa said she’d submit photos of those and invoices for replacements to the company’s insurers.

Again while it’s advisable to insure your household contents when you move house, if you don’t and your precious possessions get damaged or go missing because the removals company failed to take proper care of it - they are legally liable for your losses.

Advice from Wendy

- Make sure you use a reliable company - check if there are any reviews of a company’s service to see if they can be trusted, or choose a company used and recommended by a friend or family member.

- Read contracts carefully, especially regarding the self packing and liability.

- Make sure that you and the company agree on the quantity of the goods before agreeing on an amount and paying a deposit. 

- Very important - Take photographs of your goods as they are about to be loaded onto the truck as proof of their condition. And check that their condition is accurately noted accurately on the inventory.

For previous Consumerwatch shows, scroll through the channel below.

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