Investigates

INVESTIGATES: ‘I got played.’ Sunshine State full of shady moving companies and brokers

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Florida is paradise to many – the sun, white sandy beaches, and no state income tax – who’s got it better than us?

But the Sunshine State leads the country in some shady business – complaints against moving companies and brokers.

>>> STREAM ACTION NEWS JAX LIVE <<<

Kaitlyn Melamed moved from Colorado to Northeast Florida in 2022 to start school as a physician’s assistant.

“I wasn’t looking for the most luxurious moving company,” Melamed told Action News Jax’s Ben Becker. “I wasn’t looking for the cheapest.”

INVESTIGATES: Survey: 60% of teachers are afraid to go to school

Melamed shopped around and settled on A On Time Moving, a company out of Broward County.

The deposit was nearly $1,200 but what she didn’t know is that it was a moving broker.

Brokers are middlemen who book your move and sell it to an actual moving company. In Melamed’s case, a company out of Texas.

INVESTIGATES: Teacher survey found more than half have been afraid to go to school because of violence

She was quoted more than $4,100. They picked up her belongings in Colorado, but it took a detour to Texas instead of Jacksonville.

“They didn’t show up, no communication, no text message so I call them. They say, ‘I’m sorry we had a flat tire.’ They gave me some excuse,” said Melamed, who also said the movers also claimed they didn’t have enough room in the truck they had rented.

Eventually, she filed a lawsuit that she dropped when her belongings finally arrived two months later.

Read: Sources: City leaders want to use JEA as ‘piggy bank’ to help pay for stadium renovations

Action News Jax Investigates found Florida is home to more brokers than anywhere else in the country, 238 out of 1,032, or 23% percent of the industry, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

It costs just $125 to register as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) and $600 to become registered and authorized as a broker with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The Better Business Bureau receives 15,000 complaints per year against moving companies and brokers.

Read: JTA’s multimillion-dollar autonomous vehicle project is over budget and behind deadline

In Melamed’s case, the company hired by A On Time Movers insisted she had to pay up before they opened up the truck and when she did, she found broken furniture and missing items.

Do you feel like your stuff was held hostage?” Becker asked.

“Yes 100%,” Melamed said.

INVESTIGATES: ‘I was vulnerable’ Artificial Intelligence work-from-home job scams targeting victims

Florida Senate Bill 304 is supposed to help put a stop to that, at least in the Sunshine State, after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bipartisan measure in April.

Some of the key provisions include prohibiting moving companies from withholding your possessions for excessive fees, plus requiring moving brokers to work exclusively with Florida-registered moving companies -- violators face fines of up to $50,000.

“It’s personal to me,” said State Rep. Kimberly Daniels of Jacksonville, who signed on as a co-prime sponsor.

Read: Georgia could be holding onto cash that belongs to you… and you may not even realize it

As a child, she lost many belongings during a move

“This bill has the teeth we need to solve the problem,” said Daniels, although it only applies to moving operations within Florida.

Moves between states are still subject to federal oversight.

Read: Government financial watchdog gives Jacksonville D grade; questions if city can afford new stadium

“This is a very strong start sends a loud message,” Daniels said, defending the measure.

Will A On Time Moving get the message?

In the last 3 years, it has received 47 BBB complaints and has an F rating.

[DOWNLOAD: Free Action News Jax app for alerts as news breaks]

The Florida Attorney General says it has received more than a dozen complaints of its own against the company.

It also has 13 ongoing cases against other companies, one is in litigation and the others are active investigations. Each case involves multiple entities and individuals.

Becker tried calling the owner of A On Time Moving, Brian DeFelice, but he never returned a message.

[SIGN UP: Action News Jax Daily Headlines Newsletter]

DeFelice’s Facebook page describes working in a beautiful office but when Action News Jax went to that location, it appeared A On Time Moving has moved on -- now it’s a medical office.

Melamed said she did not expect to become a victim.

“I feel like I did my research I’m an intelligent woman,” Melamed said. “I got played.”

Click here to download the free Action News Jax news and weather apps, click here to download the Action News Jax Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Action News Jax live.