Montgomery Targeting Aggressive Towing

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has submitted amendments to a County Council bill, #17-15, Motor Vehicle Towing and Immobilization on Private Property, that are intended to enhance the bill’s ability to target overly aggressive towing. As announced in a Montgomery County news release:

The legislation and proposed amendments would change Montgomery County’s current towing law in an effort to curb overly aggressive towing practices in shopping centers and residential parking areas and to align Montgomery County’s law with the recently-enacted statewide towing law.

The County Executive’s Office, County Council and Office of Consumer Protection have received an increasing number of complaints from consumers in Montgomery County regarding behavior by some towing firms which appears to be overly aggressive and “predatory” in nature. Such activity, which has been widely reported in national and local news media, appears to violate the intent of Montgomery County’s 25-year-old towing law.

“Unfair and abusive towing practices ultimately hurt businesses in our urban districts and discourage residents from doing business and living in Montgomery County,” said Leggett. “Our law needs to ensure that there is balance and civility with our parking restrictions and towing.”

The bill  includes provisions to prohibit “spotting” (watching for drivers to park and leave the property, and then immediately towing) and to allow the County Executive to set flat rate towing fees. County Executive Leggett offered a number of amendments expanding upon these protections including provisions that prohibit charging consumers who return to their vehicles before towing has been completed, and provisions requiring property owners to electronically register their parking lots and provided statistical reports if they wish to engage in non-consensual towing.

As previously reported in The Washington Post predatory towing has been a growing problem in the county:

Towing from lots in shopping centers, apartment complexes and other private property is a $5 million-a-year business in Montgomery, county officials estimate, involving about 40,000 vehicles. Overly aggressive or predatory towing is also the most frequent complaint lodged with the county’s Office of Consumer Protection. The number of “non-consensual tow complaints” grew from 77 in 2007 to 193 in 2013, before dipping to 141 last year.

Property owners often sign contracts with towing operators that involve no fees but allow the companies to keep whatever they charge to return vehicles to their owners. The bill is an attempt to hold both tow firms and the property owners who hire them more accountable.

“We’ve turned our parking lots into lucrative fishing holes,” said Eric Friedman, the consumer protection director. “It’s become a bounty system. It was never intended that [if] you walk away for 30 seconds that you would be towed.”

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for  7:30 p.m. in the Council Office Building, Third Floor Hearing Room, 100 Maryland Ave., Rockville.

For more information read the bill and full news release on the County Executive’s amendments.