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Predatory Towing is Illegal in Baltimore County, Not Baltimore City

Vehicle getting towed
Vehicles getting towed by tow truck.

Back in March, I observed a tow truck company, Quick Response Towing, Inc., hook an Amazon delivery van that was there to drop off packages at the Rite Aid Pharmacy located at 4600 West Northern Parkway, Baltimore City. The Amazon driver was parked in front of the Rite Aid in the fire lane for no more than 5 minutes to place packages in the collection box before running outside to halt the tow. This did not go well with the many customers at this shopping plaza that gathered in disbelief, shouting and a few threats of violence. Luckily it did not escalate into violence.


Predatory towing practices are considered bad for several reasons:

1. Lack of transparency: Predatory towing companies often operate in a misleading or deceitful manner. They may not clearly mark private property with towing warnings, or they may tow vehicles without giving owners fair warning.

2. Excessive fees: Predatory towing companies often charge exorbitant fees to release towed vehicles. These fees can be much higher than the actual cost of towing and impoundment, placing an unfair financial burden on vehicle owners.

3. Targeting vulnerable individuals: Predatory towing practices often target individuals who may be unfamiliar with the area or parking regulations, such as tourists or people attending events in unfamiliar locations. This can lead to people being unfairly towed without understanding why.

4. Negative impact on communities: Predatory towing practices can create a hostile environment in communities, leading to distrust between property owners, towing companies, and residents. This can ultimately harm the reputation of businesses and deter people from visiting or doing business in an area.

5. Legal and ethical concerns: Predatory towing practices may violate local laws and regulations designed to protect consumers and ensure fair business practices. Engaging in predatory towing can lead to legal consequences for towing companies and property owners who condone or encourage such practices.


If you recall, a few years ag, the Maryland Legislature was passed a law in regard to predatory towing. The legislation detailed that a commercial tow truck driver cannot patrol private property open to the public to tow vehicles unless they have been contacted by the owner or agent of the property, with the make, model or other details of the vehicles, location, and signature PRIOR to towing a vehicle. This was considered "spotting" which is an unethical and illegal practice. The legislations reads as follows:

 

§21–10A–04.    (a)    Unless otherwise set by local law, a person who undertakes the towing or removal of a vehicle from a parking lot:

 (1)    May not charge the owner of the vehicle, the owner’s agent, the insurer of record, or any secured party more than:           

 (i)    Twice the amount of the total fees normally charged or authorized by the political subdivision for the public safety impound towing of vehicles;

(ii)    Notwithstanding § 16–207(f)(1) of the Commercial Law Article, the fee normally charged or authorized by the political subdivision from which the vehicle was towed for the daily storage of impounded vehicles;

(iii)    If a political subdivision does not establish a fee limit for the public safety towing, recovery, or storage of impounded vehicles, $250 for towing and recovering a vehicle and $30 per day for vehicle storage; and

(iv)    Subject to subsection (b) of this section, the actual cost of providing notice under this section;

(2)    Shall notify the police department in the jurisdiction where the parking lot is located within 1 hour after towing or removing the vehicle from the parking lot, and shall provide the following information:            

(i)    A description of the vehicle including the vehicle’s registration plate number and vehicle identification number;            

(ii)    The date and time the vehicle was towed or removed;            

(iii)    The reason the vehicle was towed or removed; and            

(iv)    The locations from which and to which the vehicle was towed or removed;

(3)    (i)    Shall notify the owner, the insurer of record, and, except as provided in item (ii) of this item, any secured party by certified mail, return receipt requested, and first–class mail within 7 days, exclusive of days that the towing business is closed, after towing or removing the vehicle, and shall provide the same information required in a notice to a police department under item (2) of this subsection; and            

(ii)    May provide notice required under item (i) of this item to any secured party electronically, if that form of notice is agreed to by the tower and the secured party in writing or by electronic communication;       

 (4)    Shall provide to the owner, any secured party, and the insurer of record the itemized actual costs of providing notice under this section;        

(5)    Before towing or removing the vehicle, shall have authorization of the parking lot owner which shall include:           

(i)    The name of the person authorizing the tow or removal;            

(ii)    A statement that the vehicle is being towed or removed at the request of the parking lot owner; and            

(iii)    Photographic evidence of the violation or event that precipitated the towing of the vehicle;        

(6)    Shall obtain commercial liability insurance in the amount required by federal law for transporting property in interstate or foreign commerce to cover the cost of any damage to the vehicle resulting from the person’s negligence;        

(7)    May not employ or otherwise compensate individuals, commonly referred to as “spotters”, whose primary task is to report the presence of unauthorized parked vehicles for the purposes of towing or removal, and impounding;        

(8)    May not pay any remuneration to the owner, agent, or employee of the parking lot; and        

(9)    May not tow a vehicle solely for a violation of failure to display a valid current registration under § 13–411 of this article until 72 hours after a notice of violation is placed on the vehicle.    

(b)    A person may not charge for the actual cost of providing notice under subsection (a)(1)(iv) of this section if the vehicle owner, the owner’s agent, the insurer of record, or any secured party retakes possession of the vehicle within 48 hours after the vehicle was received at the storage facility.    

(c)    The Administration shall:

(1)    Establish and maintain a database containing the proper address for providing notice to an insurer under subsection (a)(3) of this section for each insurer authorized to write a vehicle liability insurance policy in the State; and

 (2)    Make the database available to any tower free of charge.    

(d)    An agreement to provide notice electronically made in accordance with subsection (a)(3)(ii) of this section shall remain in effect until terminated by either party.

 

If local jurisdictions are allowed to be exempt from this law, it makes the law essentially toothless. It is unfortunate that the history of unscrupulous tow truck businesses and their drivers taking advantage of citizens prompted the Maryland Legislature to take action, but I think this needs to be taken one step further, especially when local governments are not able to, or unwilling to protect its citizens from predatory towing. 


Baltimore City

Not only does Baltimore City allow predatory towing, but it also sets tow fees higher than most other jurisdictions. According to an article in the Baltimore Brew, "Maryland nominally sets the fee at $250 per trespass tow, it allows counties to set their rate at a higher amount. Baltimore City uses this loophole to set rates at $300 per tow, more than double the fee in Washington, D.C., and most other jurisdictions." According to the news article, Baltimore City Council voted on the issue in 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and in 2022.

"The latest attempt at reform, championed by Councilman Ryan Dorsey, was introduced last year.
Bill 21-0125 would reduce Baltimore’s towing fee from $300 to $250, lower the drop fee from $150 to $62.50, prohibit any charges when a vehicle has not yet been lifted from the ground, and require the acceptance of at least two credit cards for payment. The measure also would have banned patrol towing outside of the hours of 2 a.m. to 7 a.m.

The bill, which was did not nearly go far enough to address predatory towing, was defeated by a vote of 4-3 in committee. Councilpersons Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (District 5), Mark Conway (4), Eric Costello (District 11) and Sharon Green Middleton (District 6) all voted no. If you are frustrated over the predatory towing, make your voices heard by voting. You can vote in the primary election until May 14th and also register to vote or update your voter registration information before April 23, 2024 (click here).


Baltimore County

Baltimore County was able to get it right. The Baltimore County Code firmly establishes measures to prevent predatory towing to protect the citizens, those who visit Baltimore County and also those who patronize businesses in Baltimore County.


§ 21-16-116. - TRESPASS TOWING - SIGNAGE.


(a) Sign requirements. The owner or operator of a parking lot or garage or the owner's or operator's agent may not have a vehicle towed or otherwise removed from the parking lot or garage unless the owner, operator, or agent has placed in a conspicuous location, as described in subsection.

(b) of this section, signs that:

(1) Are at least 24 inches high and 30 inches wide;

(2) Are clearly visible to the driver of a motor vehicle entering or being parked in the parking lot or garage;

(3) State the location to which the vehicle will be towed or removed;

(4) State that vehicles may be reclaimed 24 hours per day, seven days per week;

(5) State the maximum amount that the owner of the vehicle may be charged for the towing or removal of the vehicle; and

(6) Provide the telephone number of a person who can be contacted to arrange for the reclaiming of the vehicle by the owner of the vehicle.

(b)Sign placement. The signs described in subsection (a) of this section shall be placed at each entrance and at least one sign shall be posted for every 7,500 square feet of parking space in the parking lot or garage.


§ 21-16-118. - SAME - RIGHTS, DUTIES, AND OBLIGATIONS. (a) Requirements for trespass towers. A person who undertakes trespass towing: (1) May not charge the owner of the vehicle: (i) More than the fee approved by the Department for the service provided; or (ii) Except as provided in § 16-207(f)(1) of the Commercial Law Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland, more than $8 per day for storage; (2) Shall maintain a record in its ordinary course of business of every tow made under this title and shall retain the record for a minimum of 2 years and shall make available in a reasonable time and manner, for inspection by the Police Department or by the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, its records kept in the ordinary course of business under this title; (3) Subject to paragraph (4) of this subsection, shall: (i) Immediately notify the Baltimore County Police Department and shall notify the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections within one business day after towing or removing the vehicle from the parking lot or garage; and (ii) Provide a second notification to the Police Department and the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections if the vehicle is not reclaimed within 72 hours; (4) In each notification required under this subsection, shall provide the following information: (i) A description of the vehicle including the vehicle's registration plate number and vehicle identification number; (ii) The date and time the vehicle was towed or removed: (iii) The reason the vehicle was towed or removed; and (iv) The locations from which and to which the vehicle was towed or removed; (5) Before towing or removing the vehicle, shall have written authorization of the parking lot or garage owner or operator or the owner or operator's agent, which shall include: (i) The name of the person authorizing the tow or removal; and (ii) A statement that the vehicle is being towed or removed at the request of the parking lot or garage owner or operator or the owner or operator's agent; (6) Shall make available for inspection by the Police Department or by the Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections those motor vehicles that remain impounded or stored in the storage or repair facility of the towing service; (7) Shall obtain a surety bond in the amount of $20,000 to guarantee payment of any liability incurred under this title; (8) May not employ individuals commonly referred to as "spotters", whose primary task is to report the presence of unauthorized parked vehicles for the purposes of towing or removal, and impounding; (9) May not pay any remuneration to the owner of the parking lot or garage or to the agent of the owner; (10) May not charge a vehicle owner or agent or operator any fee for the services of a property owner's agent; and (11) May not charge the full approved trespass towing fee for incomplete tows. (b) Incomplete tows. If a vehicle owner returns to the vehicle at any time after the vehicle is attached to the tow truck but before it is towed from the parking lot or garage, the trespass tower must release the vehicle to the owner if the owner pays a release fee which shall be no more than one-half the approved towing fee had the vehicle been towed to the approved storage lot. (c) Occupants. (1) A trespass tower may not lift a vehicle if there is any person in the vehicle at the time the vehicle is initially attached to the tow truck, and the vehicle may not be moved from the parking lot or garage. (2) A release fee no more than one-half the approved towing fee had the vehicle been towed may be charged. (d) Blocking vehicles. A trespass tower may not block an unauthorized vehicle with a tow truck to obtain payment from the vehicle owner before attaching the vehicle to the tow truck. (e) Refusal to obey police officer. The owner or occupant of a vehicle that is the subject of a tow who refuses to obey an on-duty police officer who orders any occupant to exit the vehicle in order that the vehicle may be towed is guilty of a misdemeanor.


Predatory towing practices are harmful because they exploit consumers, create distrust in communities, and can have negative legal and ethical implications. It is important for communities to address and prevent predatory towing practices to protect the rights and interests of vehicle owners. If Baltimore City Council refuses or cannot manage to protect its citizens and visitors doing business, maybe citizens should take their business to Baltimore County, to send a clear message.


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