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Moving house? Warning over unlicensed ‘man and van’ removals in France

The house-movers’ trade body has seen an increase in illegal services advertising online with no redress if things go wrong

Some removal firms insert a damage excess clause into contracts which is illegal Pic: Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock

Unlicensed ‘man with van’ services advertised on sites such as Leboncoin leave clients without redress when things go wrong, the house-movers’ trade body has warned.

Like many trades in France, house-movers are regulated and should be registered with the prefecture under transport routier de marchandises.

They are also required to have a licence to transport, either for vehicles under 3.5 tonnes or for heavier lorries and vans.

Read more: Paying upfront for removal company in France: is there way around it?

No comeback with unregistered removers

Hervé Brassac, head of the Chambre Syndicale du Déménagement (CSD) legal department, told The Connexion the warning was not simply an effort to eliminate competition.

“If you use someone who is not registered and things go badly, you have no comeback,” he said.

“There have been extreme cases where people have loaded up a van and then driven off, never to be seen again.”

He said lack of training and experience also led to more breakages or bad experiences, such as unwieldy furniture and white goods being left at the bottom of staircases. 

Very few of these new entrants to the market have professional insurance, and when things go wrong, they disappear into thin air, he said.

Noticing more advertisements for illegal services

The CSD makes formal complaints to the Direction régionale de l’environnement, de l’aménagement et du logement if members spot a business or person offering moving services without being registered.

This normally triggers a formal inspection and sometimes a court case.

“It takes time, usually a couple of months for an inspection to be arranged, and often a couple of years for a court case.

“However, often the threat of an inspection is enough for bad apples to stop the illegal activity.”

The number of cases per year varies from five to 20, but Mr Brassac said the CSD had decided to speak out after noticing more advertisements and sites offering these services.

Moving house in France is an expensive business

As an example, 15 years ago a Connexion journalist who wanted to move the contents of a three-bedroom house and garage to a property 60km away received three virtually identical quotes around the €4,300 mark.

Read more: When can a French business charge you for a quote?

Hiring a van and calling in friends to help instead eventually cost €300.

At the time, it was said tariffs for removals were set by the grants available to French military personnel for their moves.

Similar grants are available for most fonctionnaires when they move as a result of job changes.

However, Mr Brassac denied removals are a fixed market.

“It is a very competitive business, with relatively heavy investments made upfront if people do it correctly, and outgoings every month for insurance, fuel and staff fees,” he said.

“No doubt that is why the quotes were so similar.”

He added that state grants had so many variables – age, rank, family circumstances – that it was impossible for them to be used to fix house-moving tariffs.

He also dispelled the misconception that only registered firms are able to reserve places in front of flats in Paris and other cities, and use electric ladders and hoists to get furniture down via windows.

“Anyone who is moving can ask the municipality to reserve parking in front of their flats.”

Electric hoists, however, require a trained operator and anyone renting one must hire an individual with this expertise.

Illegal to charge an excess for damage

Cargo bikes and other electric bicycles, which are advertised in many cities as a ‘green’ way to move, are currently outside all regulation, said Mr Brassac.

“Bicycles and electric bicycles or tricycles are not seen by the law as being motor vehicles, and so cannot be registered as transporters,” he said.

“It is something we are working to change, because although it is a marginal activity, mainly used by students in cities, the movers cannot be insured and so have uncovered risks for themselves and their clients.”

Some removal firms also continue to insert an excess clause into contracts, meaning clients cannot be fully compensated if their possessions are damaged, even though this is illegal.

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