More than 50 moving companies in North Carolina could have their operating certificates yanked by state regulators, a step that would thin the ranks of the state's legitimate movers by 20 percent.
The threat is the latest attempt by the N.C. Utilities Commission, which regulates in-state moving in North Carolina, to force the movers to comply with a 2-year-old state rule requiring company owners and officers to get a criminal background check.
The commission notified recalcitrant movers in the past week that they must pay a $500 late fine by Dec. 31. If the movers don't pay the fine, their state certificates could be suspended and the fine increased to $1,000.
The fines and deadline notices went out to moving companies that ignored an earlier commission order to appear in Raleigh last month at a public hearing or send a lawyer. The movers who showed up were spared fines and given an extension until Feb. 28 to get their criminal background checks.
"I'm sure they're unhappy, but $500 is not bad for just not showing up," said Carol Stahl, director of the Transportation Rates Division in the Public Staff, the state's consumer advocacy arm in utility rate matters.
The original deadline for the background check was April. At the time, about half the state's 250 certified movers had not complied.
Some considered the new requirement a hassle; others had privacy concerns. The requirement applies to company officials, not to employees, and the Utilities Commission must keep the information confidential.
Alexei Polyakov, owner of Pro Movers in Raleigh, said this week that he didn't recall whether he submitted his criminal background check, but he was defiant about the financial and legal consequences of flouting commission rules.
"I will not pay the fine," Polyakov said. "If I receive a phone call from a customer" who wants to move within Raleigh, "I'm not going to say no."
The commission adopted the criminal background check rule in 2008 at the request of an Apex moving company that wanted to protect the public from shady haulers and raise standards for the industry. Having a criminal background would not automatically disqualify a moving company from operating in the state.
The commission reviews every criminal record submitted and decides whether it poses a risk to public safety. A number of movers have submitted background checks that showed criminal records and were allowed to keep their certificates, said Bruce Ramaekers, a transportation utilities analyst with the commission.
"Just a wide range of crimes," Ramaekers said. "Fundamentally, the decision is whether this poses a problem to the public."
North Carolina is one of 27 states that regulate moving companies. The Utilities Commission regulates in-state movers and sets maximum rates, based on distance, weight, number of movers and trucks required, among other factors. A certificate requires the mover to carry insurance.
Exceptions to the rule
he state doesn't regulate commercial moving or out-of-state moves. So companies that don't comply with criminal background checks could still provide unregulated services.
In-state movers that don't have a state certificate, however, are not operating legally and are subject to a $1,000 fine. Such cases are referred to the state Highway Patrol for investigation. Moving companies that let their certificates lapse and are suspected of operating illegally will also be referred to the Highway Patrol for a fine, Ramaekers said.
Mike Mather, owner of Mather Brothers Moving Co. in Garner, said only 5 percent of his company's business is in-state moving and subject to state regulation. Most of his business is military moves and interstate moves, over which the Utilities Commission has no jurisdiction.
Mather conceded that he procrastinated with the criminal check but said he will likely pony up the $500 fine to keep his certificate. The $500 is equivalent to a small local move, or about 5 hours of work by two movers, he said.
"Sometimes I wonder if it's worth the trouble, with all these regulations," he said.
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