The County Council unanimously voted to approve the bill to reduce aggressive and predatory towing in Montgomery County on Tuesday.
The bill came after its lead sponsor, Council member Roger Berliner (D-1), said he has heard countless stories of predatory towing in his years at the council.
“Every year there are 30,000 tows from private property in our county. Too many residents have been victims of unscrupulous business practices of predatory towing,” said Berliner.
There have been several provisions added to the bill since it was first introduced in April. According to a County Council memo, some of the provisions include requiring one notice for every 25 parking spaces for parking lots with 100 or more parking spots, requiring photographic evidence of violations and prohibiting the use of spotters, as well as several other provisions.
“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,” said Berliner.
According to the Office of Consumer Protection, each year approximately 50,000 vehicles are towed in Montgomery County.
Some of the complaints by consumers include a lack of signage indicating they were in a towing area, being towed when they were in compliance with a sign or being towed after briefly leaving their cars.
According Josh Hamlin, legislative attorney for the Montgomery County Council, spotters have been one of the biggest complaints.
Under Md. Transportation Code Ann. §21-10A-04, spotters are people whose “primary task is to report the presence of unauthorized parked vehicles for the purpose of towing or removal, or impounding.”
Eric Friedman, director of Office of Consumer Protection, supported banning the use of spotters.
“We want a situation and a business model in which a tow truck is responding to a parking problem. And the fact that they have a contract with a company owner is not a license to go hunting looking for vehicles,” said Friedman.
Friedman said that predatory towing was also an economic issue.
“This bill will not only help our residents but our businesses as well who lose customers as a result of predatory towing,” said Berliner.
Montgomery County requires all towing companies to register with the Office of Consumer Protection and will now give the Office of Consumer Protection “the power it needs to enforce the law and protect consumers,” according to Berliner.
According to a County Council memo, the other provisions include authorizing the county executive to set flat rates for certain towing services, requiring towing companies to have personnel available 24 hours for people to be able to retrieve their vehicles, requiring towing companies to accept credit cards as well as cash for payment for redemption of vehicles, and requiring property owners who want to engage in nonconsensual towing of vehicles violating property policies to electronically register commercial lots and provide annual reports on towing activity.