• New Towing Law in Montgomery County Creates Additional Hurdles for Community Associations
  • August 20, 2015 | Author: Jeremy Mark Tucker
  • Law Firm: Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chartered - Bethesda Office
  • On July 31, 2015, Montgomery County Executive Leggett signed Bill 17-15, amending the County’s towing laws. The primary intent of the new law is to decrease predatory towing practices. The practical impact of portions of the law also significantly affects a community association’s ability to enforce parking. Further, a violation of the law can subject an association to damages that are three times the amount of the tow or storage fee. The new law becomes effective November 30, 2015.

    Community Associations Must Expressly Authorize the Towing of Vehicles from Association Lots

    Community association representatives must expressly authorize the towing of vehicles from association parking lots. Express authorization must be in writing by using a tow authorization form. Tow authorization forms must be submitted to the towing company in person, via fax, e-mail or other electronic means approved by the Office of Consumer Protection. Express authorization is unnecessary if the tow is: (1) 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. This authorization component significantly changes the previous law and practice that allowed agents of an association to provide towing authorization through a contract or verbal confirmation. Practically, what this means is that community associations must have an agent or authorized representative expressly authorize the towing of each individual vehicle. Additional requirements for towing include:
    • A copy of the photograph evidencing the violation that gave rise to the tow must be provided to the vehicle owner with the receipt of the tow;
    • Photographic evidence of the violation that precipitated the tow must be available for inspection by any interested party for at least one year after the tow (which may require additional duties for the agent who authorizes the tow);
    • Unauthorized vehicles may not be towed from private property that is held open to the public for parking within 15 minutes of the vehicle being parked, unless the vehicle is:
      • Blocking a clearly marked fire lane;
      • Blocking access to another vehicle;
      • Blocking access to the property or a building on the property; or
      • Parking in a parking space reserved for disabled persons without a valid handicapped registration plate or valid disabled person’s parking permit.

    County Law Increases Signage Requirements for Community Associations

    The new towing law creates more stringent signage requirements for community associations. Association parking lots with more than 100 parking spaces must have a sign posted for every 25 spaces. Parking lots with more than 45 parking spaces must have at least one sign for each of its 45 spaces (State law requires one sign for every 7,500 square feet). Signs must also be posted in a conspicuous manner and placed at a location where they can be read from all affected areas. Notably, the new law mandates an additional requirement not found in the recently adopted Maryland State law - a towing sign must now also be “made of reflective material that can be seen in low light, and located so that it is able to be read by motorists in daylight and at night.” This means that many signs that were just recently installed to comply with State law will need to be replaced if they do not meet this requirement.

    County Law Mandates Specific Language to be Included in New Towing Contracts

    New towing contracts between community associations and towing companies must include the following language:
    • Property owners are responsible for posting proper and sufficient signage notifying the public of parking restrictions;
    • Property owners are responsible for expressly authorizing the towing of unauthorized vehicles;
    • Property owners or the towing company are liable for a violation of any duty imposed by law, and damages for such violations are imposed at three times the amount of any towing release fee or storage fees assessed;
    • Property owners and towing companies are jointly and severally liable for a violation of any duty imposed by 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 $500.00 to $1,000.00.
    The new law also creates additional requirements, mainly affecting towing companies. We recommend that Montgomery County community associations contact their respective towing companies to ensure they are in compliance with the new law, because community associations may be held liable for inappropriate tows after November 30, 2015. Further, any existing contracts with towing companies will need to be modified to include the required language noted above.