Industry Spotlight: California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC)

by Suzanne Carroll

When you think about public utilities, you probably think about electricity, water or gas. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is a government agency that regulates private companies that provide those services. But the mandate for the CPUC is much broader than many Californians realize—it also has authority over telecommunication companies, rail transit providers and passenger carriers. The CPUC’s stated mission is to “regulate services and utilities, protect consumers, safeguard the environment, and assure Californians’ access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.” This piece focuses on one aspect of the CPUC’s role: the regulation of moving companies.

Any company that moves household goods within California needs to have a permit issued by the CPUC. To obtain a permit, a moving company must show it has stable finances, adhere to appropriate safety standards and have the proper insurance for the scope of its work. It also needs to pass a written exam based on the Maximum Rate Tariff 4, which is a published set of rules and regulations governing moving companies’ obligations and client fees. State and federal background checks are also required. When researching a mover, consumers should ask for the company’s Cal-T Number, which will allow them to research its permit.

The CPUC also provides consumers with a wealth of information to help simplify the moving process, like its Tips for Hiring a Moving Company. Among its advice, the CPUC warns consumers that moving estimates made over the phone or online are not legally binding, and they should obtain copies of all agreements before their moves begin. The CPUC allows consumers to check if a moving company has a permit by calling (800) 877-8867 or accessing its website for a complete list of licensed movers. Consumers who are unable to resolve a dispute with their moving company may file a formal complaint with the agency.

CPUC’s Transportation Enforcement staff investigates moving companies suspected of operating without a license. The agency refers to such operators as “bandits” and claims they “expose the public to significant harm and have a tremendous, unfair economic advantage over their lawful competitors.” Unscrupulous movers have been known to demand higher prices in the middle of a move or even extort clients, demanding money for the release of their possessions. To combat moving industry malfeasance, the CPUC levies fines, pursues criminal proceedings and even runs sting operations.

The CPUC describes itself as “one of the most influential regulatory agencies in the U.S.” It’s headed by five governor-appointed commissioners who serve six-year terms. The agency also employs engineers, economic analysts, accountants, transportation specialists and other professionals to ensure the smooth functioning of the many privately owned services that have become essential to daily life.