Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Council Passes Predatory Towing Bill

Here's the full press release:

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 21, 2015—The Montgomery County Council today unanimously approved Bill 17-15 that will limit some of the practices that have led to the predatory towing of vehicles parked on private properties.

The lead sponsor of Bill 17-15 was Councilmember Roger Berliner, who chairs the Council’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Marc Elrich, Nancy Floreen, Tom Hucker, Sidney Katz, George Leventhal, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer. A public hearing was held on the bill on June 16, and the Public Safety Committee held two worksessions on it.

The provisions of Bill 17-15 will:

  • Authorize the County Executive to set flat rates for certain towing services.
  • Require towing companies to have personnel available 24 hours a day at impound lots so vehicle owners can retrieve cars at any time.
  • Require one notice sign per 25 spaces in parking lots with 100 or more parking spaces, in addition to requiring signs at entrances.
  • Require photographic evidence of violations or of events precipitating the towing of a vehicle.
  • Prohibit the use of "spotters" to identify vehicles for towing.
  • Require towing companies to accept credit cards as well as cash for the redemption of vehicles.
The Council made several amendments to the original bill, including those recommended by the Public Safety Committee. Amendments include a prohibition of "patrol towing" of commercial lots by providing that a towing company "must not monitor, patrol or otherwise surveil commercial property for the purposes of identifying unauthorized parked vehicles for towing and removal."

Other amendments included in the bill will: strengthen the Office of Consumer Protection’s ability to enforce the law; require written authorization for each tow in the form of an authorization form provided in person, or via fax, email, or other electronic means; make contracts between property owners and towing companies more informative as to respective parties’ obligations and liability under the law; and make several changes to more closely aligning the County law with State law.

“Every year there are 30,000 tows from private property in our County. Too many residents have been victims of the unscrupulous business practices of predatory towing,” said Councilmember Berliner. “Towing is an extraordinary act, and it should only be done for legitimate reasons. The bill we passed today will better protect consumers. Notably, it will ban the use of spotters, who are used to identify and tow away vehicles as quickly as possible and it will give the Office of Consumer Protection the powers it needs to enforce the law and protect consumers. And at the same time, the bill was amended to ensure that our HOAs and condo associations, which have worked very hard to set the right balance in their parking policies, are treated differently from the commercial lots where we see the most worrisome predatory practices. This bill will not only help our residents but our businesses as well who lose customers as a result of predatory towing."

The bill also will allow vehicle owners to retrieve personal property from a vehicle that has been towed, but has not yet been released. It sets a maximum $25 fee for “incomplete tows” in situations where a vehicle has been hooked up to a tow truck, but the owner then approaches the truck operator and asks for their vehicle to not be towed.

Another provision in the bill requires property owners who wish to engage in non-consensual towing of vehicles for violating their parking policies to first electronically register their commercial lots and provide annual reports on towing activity, unless the director of the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) waives the requirement after a finding that Police Department records meet the OCP’s needs for enforcement of the law.


Steve Wasser said...

How does this impact condos and hoa towing. Are all spotters not allowed. Any other ways that condos and hoa are impacted would be helpful

Councilmember Nancy Floreen said...

Bill 17-15, as introduced, would have removed the exemption from the express authorization requirement for trespass tows between 2:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. In response to concerns raised by representatives of common ownership communities, this exemption was retained. Additionally, the new provisions added by the Bill restricting patrol towing and requiring parking lot registration and reporting are limited to commercial property and commercial lots.

Anonymous said...

allowing others to use your property without permission is tantamount to stealing. the owner pays taxes and deserves to use his property rights.

M Palmr said...

If the county council and Mr. Friedman at OCP would step up to the mike at every interview on this subject and denounce the people who knowingly park and walk elsewhere and explain to the public that it is their responsibility to honor the signs posted on private parking lots and acknowledge that it is the moral equivalent to stealing to walk off then this parking/towing issue would disappear. The council and friends do businesses a great disservice when they imply somehow the business is uncivil when they are forced to tow. There is no logical or moral rationale to make illegal parking acceptable even for a minute. The spotter towing is a result of too many ugly incidents of potentially violent confrontations when business owners try to personally enforce parking and the constant abuse of free parking by consumers who are for the most part avoiding the predatory patrolling county parking enforcement. I have repeatedly tried to have a meaningful dialog with Mr. Berliner but was only given 3 minutes at a meeting where only two council members bothered to show for to cover an issue that would take an hour.

Anonymous said...

"Every year there are 30,000 tows from private property in our County"--Mr Berliner said it correctly: private property. Why has the County Council ignored property rights and given more protection to the person trespassing as to the property owner? Why should property owners be inconvenienced? 30,000 tows each year by people trespassing? How many speeding tickets are issued by the predatory speed cameras? Perhaps speed limits should be increased because too many people are receiving speeding ticket? This seem to follow in step with the logic used by the County Council.

To make matters worse, the property owner can be held responsible for the tow company's violation of the law as well as for damages caused by the tow company. The state law holds the tow company responsible...but the County Council extends liability to the property owner.

Again...shame on the Council for taking in consideration the inconvenience caused to those who disrespect private property.

Anonymous said...

My car was towed away from a condo parking, and there was one sign every (maybe) 50-60 spots. So I couldn't see it.

This bill doesn't ban towing as couple of the reviewers insist. It bans predatory towing.

Thank you very much Nancy.

Anonymous said...

In practice it does just that. I can not tow anyone from my lot though I pay more for my spaces than I do for my mortgage. The requirements to tow are way too restrictive and basically what the council did was to punish those businesses who had the fore thought to provide parking (and the expense)in favor of the businesses who did not.