New Montgomery County Towing Law Creates Additional Hurdles for Community Associations
Bill 17-15, which takes effect on November 30, 2015, amends Montgomery County’s towing law. The primary intent of the new law is to decrease predatory towing practices. Portions of the law significantly impact community associations’ ability to enforce parking. Importantly, violations of the law may subject community associations to damages three times the amount of the tow or storage fee. Therefore, understanding the implications of the law is crucial.
Express Authorization Prior to the Towing of Vehicles
With limited exception, community associations now must expressly authorize each individual tow from a community association parking lot. This significantly changes existing law and practice, which allow for tow authorization through the towing contract or by verbal confirmation. Express authorization must be in writing, via a tow authorization form submitted to the towing company in person, via fax, e-mail or other electronic means approved by the Office of Consumer Protection. The only exceptions are: (1) when the tow is between 2:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.; or (2) if an unauthorized vehicle is blocking a clearly marked fire lane or access to another vehicle, property or a building on the property. Further, prior to towing or authorizing the tow, photographic evidence of the violation must be obtained. Practically speaking, this means that if a community wishes to tow, it must have an authorized agent on hand to expressly authorize each tow between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 a.m.
Increased Signage Requirements
The new law will require community associations to post a sufficient number of parking/towing signs so that at least one sign is clearly readable at all times from each parking area and vehicle entrance, or if a parking lot has more than 45 parking spaces, there must be at least one sign posted in a conspicuous place for each 45 spaces. (State law requires one sign for every 7,500 square feet.). Given the new changes, depending on the size of the parking lot, community associations may need to increase the amount of signs in their parking areas. While an exception exists to the number of signs required if a community association has a sign at the vehicle entrance and stickers vehicles prior to towing, this exception may not be applicable for every parking lot based on state law requirements. Therefore, community associations should consult their towing companies and attorneys to determine how to implement the new law based upon the size and layout of the parking lots.
Further, in addition to other sign content requirements that mirror state law, pursuant to the new law, signs must summarize all parking restrictions and state that county and state law require that towed vehicles be available for redemption 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Again, community associations should consult their towing companies and attorneys to determine whether they must post new signs.
Required Language in New Towing Contracts
Towing company contracts must now include statements that:
- The property owner is responsible for posting proper and sufficient signage notifying the public of parking restrictions;
- The property owner is responsible for expressly authorizing the towing of unauthorized vehicles, and that the existence of the contract does not constitute express authorization;
- The property owner or the towing company is liable for a violation of any duty imposed on the property owner or towing company by law, and that damages payable are three times the amount of any towing release or storage fees charged;
- The property owner and the towing company are jointly and severally liable for a violation of any duty imposed by the towing law; and
- Any violation of any duty imposed on the property owner or towing company subjects the property owner or the towing company to a potential fine of up to $1,000.00.
Additional notable requirements for towing include:
- Photographic evidence of the violation that precipitated the tow must be available for inspection by any interested party for at least one year (which may require additional duties from the agent who authorizes the tow).
- A copy of the photograph evidencing the violation must be provided to the vehicle owner with the receipt of the tow.
- A property owner must provide annual reports regarding the number of vehicles towed and the reason why those vehicles were towed (unless the Director of the Office of Consumer Protection waives the requirement after finding that Police Department records meet the Office’s needs for enforcement).
- A vehicle must not be towed from private property solely for a violation for failing to display a current registration until 72 hours after a notice of violation is placed on the vehicle.
The new law also creates additional requirements not discussed in this article, which may be applicable to your community or towing company. Therefore, community associations should review these issues with their towing contractors and attorneys to determine how this new law will affect their specific associations. In some cases, this new law, read together with the Maryland State law requirements, may result in additional obligations beyond those addressed here.
To review Bill 17-15 and the changes affecting Montgomery County Code, Chapter 30C, "Motor Vehicle Towing and Immobilization on Private Property", in full, please click on the link provided below.
Ruth O. Katz is a community associations attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland who helps community association managers and boards with general condominium, homeowners association and cooperative issues like common parking areas. For more information about the new towing regulations, contact Ruth at (301) 657-0188 or firstname.lastname@example.org.