A single mother in a small Alberta town is stocking her house with donated furniture and shopping at a second-hand store because the moving company she hired more than a month ago still has her possessions after demanding four times the price it quoted her.
Melanie Townsend says Atlantic Van Lines wouldn’t tell her where her property is or when it would be delivered.
“I feel like I’ve been robbed. Even if I wanted to pay them this outrageous amount of money, nobody will answer me, and there’s just no end in sight,” Townsend said.
Townsend said she believed that after loading her possessions in Regina the movers would head straight to Westlock, Alta, so she took almost nothing extra with her other than what she and her two daughters would need for a day or two.
She said she put all kitchen utensils, towels, bedsheets, makeup, work clothes and shoes in boxes because she thought she would be unpacking them a day or two later.
“It feels like I’ve had a fire almost. You try and figure out what you can replace and what you can’t,” she said.
Townsend, who moved to Alberta to work as a social worker, broke into tears when the owner of a local second-hand store offered to set up a donation jar for her.
“That’s my job, to advocate and be people’s voice. Then all of a sudden I feel like mine’s just gone,” she said.
Atlantic Van Lines insists it’s operating within industry standards and the laws of Ontario, where it is based.
However, after repeated emails from CBC Go Public, the company has offered to deliver Townsend’s possessions and reduce her bill by 38 per cent — still an amount that’s almost three times its initial estimate.
Mover initially ‘very reassuring’
Townsend said Atlantic was one of several companies that bid online to move her. She said the person she spoke to gave her confidence and appeared thorough. She said they discussed what was in every room of her one-bedroom apartment, as well as the floor it was on and how the movers would get access.
“Very personable, very friendly, very reassuring. If I had any questions or concerns she would always be available,” Townsend said.
The two men who showed up with a tractor-trailer gave her far less confidence, she said, but by then she had only another day before she had to be out of the apartment.
The movers charged her an extra $250 because of stairs, $120 to wrap her two TVs and a mirror, $75 for a destination fee and $45 for a scale fee.
Of the addresses for Atlantic Van Lines found on the company’s website and on documents provided to Townsend, one is a small auto repair business in east-end Toronto while the other a strip mall in Pickering, Ont. (CBC)
Townsend said the $490 was unexpected, but that she felt stuck because of her tight deadline. She said she also understood from the driver that he was going straight to Alberta.
She said that when the truck didn’t arrive, she called Atlantic and the company initially appeared concerned and sympathetic, but couldn’t tell her where her belongings were or when they’d arrive.
Then she got an email saying the bill would be more than four times higher than the estimate.
“I started crying immediately. I felt angry, completely ripped off,” she said.
“And I felt really scared. You may allot for a little more, but you don’t allot for it to be four times the amount.”
Customer ‘misled’ them, mover says
When contacted by telephone, Atlantic’s general operations manager, Anita Kleitz, declined to be interviewed, but did answer some questions by email.
Kleitz said the company gave Townsend a quote based on the information she provided and that she “provided misleading information about the size of her load and the amount of goods.”
She said the delivery time was only an estimate and that the company had tried repeatedly to contact Townsend by telephone and email to arrange delivery — which Townsend denies.
The company has since revised the bill twice to a lower amount.
Charging more than 10% above contracted price illegal
Ontario law, where Atlantic is based, prohibits a moving company from charging a customer more than 10 per cent above the contracted amount unless the customer agrees in writing.
Kleitz indicated Townsend agreed to the higher cost when she signed the bill of lading the mover filled out.
When Townsend signed the bill of lading it only included the extra $490 the driver added.
After the truck pulled away — and after Townsend had signed — Atlantic added more fees that almost tripled the bill again.
The extra charges included actual weight, even though the bill of lading the driver and Townsend signed indicates the estimated weight was within Atlantic’s initial estimate.
It also added packing and warehousing fees, which were expressly included in the quote.
Townsend said she was never made aware of what the final bill would be until she got the email weeks later and would never have agreed to the move had she known.
Ontario law also requires that a contract have a start and end date for the service and the mover’s name and address and contact information.
When Go Public called Atlantic Van Lines at the number listed, the person who answered wouldn’t provide an address and hung up.
We visited the addresses Atlantic gives on its website and on Townsend’s bill of lading and estimate.
One is a small auto repair business in east-end Toronto, the other a strip mall in Pickering, Ont.
The owners of both confirmed Atlantic has not been a tenant there. Kleitz did not respond to questions about that.
“I trusted these people based on the conversations I had,” Townsend said.
“I was a single person looking at what was the best, most economical way to make this move happen [with] things that I’ve had for years and protected and taken care of.”
Townsend is still trying to decide whether she will pay the extra amount of the bill, just so she can have her belongings back and settle in to her new home.