Council Approves Limits on Predatory Towing on Private Property
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 (OCP) 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 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.