Community Issues - Zoning process

Trespass Towing

There are three types of towing:

  • Medallion - when you call to have your broken-down vehicle towed
  • Police - when the police call to have a vehicle towed from a crash scene or dangerously parked on public property
  • Trespass - when a property owner calls to have a vehicle towed that is improperly parked on their private property

The following addresses only trespass towing, which would more appropriately be called "predatory towing".

Current Situation

My opinion is that trespass towing should be prohibited. It is the same as car theft and deprives the owner of the use of their property. If someone wants a vehicle towed from their private property, they should have to call the police, whose standard procedure is to first try to get in contact with the owner before getting it towed. But, it appears that state law requires the County to allow "trespass towing", but allows the County to establish the rules, procedures, charges, etc.

The current problems with trespass towing are almost too many to describe. It is a well-established fact that tow-truck drivers cruise around looking for cars parked in marked lots where no business is open, and tow them, without any request by the property owner. In fact, in a previous annual "hearing" PAI held, they argued that they should be able to charge more because of the extra expense of such cruising, never mind that both state law (Transportation Code § 21-10A-04(a)(7) and county Code (§ 21-16-118) make it very clear that cruising around looking for vehicles to tow ("spotters") is not allowed, rather, the property owner must request a specific tow.

Secondly, the charges are ridiculous. Although limited by the County, they are now such that a large portion of the population cannot afford the charge, and would have to wait until payday to recover their vehicle (which they probably depend on to work). Meanwhile, the "storage" charge quickly escalates and, soon, the recovery fee is more than they can ever afford, and more than the car is worth. At this point, they abandon their car and are left without any transportation. At those annual hearings, some tow-truck operators were complaining about the County's slow processing of the paper-work, so their lots were getting filled up. All of those vehicles in the lot represent real people who had their vehicles improperly taken.

Some will say "If you don't want to lose your vehicle, don't park in someone else's lot." Here's a real story:

Some years ago I came across a Code Enforcement hearing against a tow company for not posting the required signs and towing a car. Seems that the unfortunate young women went to an exercise club off of Merritt Blvd and, leaving late at night, decided with friends to go across Merritt Blvd for a bite to eat, riding over there with one of them. When she got back, her car was gone. (It had been properly parked in a huge parking lot where the exercise club was.

It came out in testimony that the tow-truck operator was cruising around looking for a lucrative tow and saw this lone car in the large parking lot. He went into the exercise club (apparently the only business opened) and could not find anyone who identified it as their car, so he towed it.

(State and County law prohibit them from "cruising" around looking for cars to tow.)

Obviously, the young women felt that she had done nothing wrong and, in a properly running society, she should not have had to fear her car being "stolen".

A third problem is that the tow companies require that payment to recover your car be paid in cash. The state law supposedly fixed this years ago by requiring that they accept credit cards. (It's obvious why the companies don't want to take credit cards. You charge the fee to get your car back, then, as soon as you get home, challenge the charge to force the tow-company to initiate legal action to collect it.) However, in usual style, the state screwed up the wording of this requirement. It reads:

(1) Subject to paragraph (2) of this subsection, a storage facility that is in possession of a towed vehicle shall:
   (i) Accept payment for outstanding towing, recovery, or storage charges by cash or at least two major, nationally recognized credit cards; and
   (ii) If the storage facility accepts only cash, have an operable automatic teller machine available on the premises.

Read that carefully! the requirement in the first is literally "cash or credit card". (How about a debit card?) They can say that they accept Diners Card and American Express and not offer an ATM - two cards that very few ordinary people carry. And then the state law allows an ATM machine as an alternative. Makes no sense! An ATM can be expensive to use, and it does no good for someone who doesn't have the money in the bank. Besides, many of the required warning signs posted at parking lots still say "cash only" as a false warning. And the second item contradicts the first.

The state law then, ridiculously, goes on to say what they must do if they can't accept a credit card and don't have an ATM - accept a personal check - which they can still refuse if a credit card was refused (which could be because of malfunction of their equipment). If they can't accept a credit card or have an ATM, they should have to release the car, and try to bill you later.

From 2011-2020, just one towing company, Pollards, donated about $38,000 to Baltimore County Exec and Council Members as well as a lot more to state politicians. List here!. And here's $19k from Baltimore Towing

Corrections needed

In general, if Trespass towing is retained in Baltimore County, the following changes should be made to BCC §21-16 or State Law, Transportation Article §21-10A:

  • The best fix is to make Trespass Towing (from private property) only allowed when called by the police who were called by the property owner.
  • The fees, which are set annually by the Director of PAI should be limited. Mainly, the storage fee should be limited to a reasonable amount. Considering that the public garage in Towson charges $10 per day, this would seem to be a reasonable limit. The fee for the towing should be the same as for "medallion" towing with a small addition for a "keyless tow".
  • Make it more explicit that tow-truck drivers can't drive around looking for cars to tow. They must be contacted, via an office with records, by the owner of the property or their designated "agent" to request a specific tow. And it needs to be stated that a tow-truck company employee or paid "spotter" can act as an "agent".
  • Prohibit towing from a lot unless a proper warning sign with the current rules and correct charges is posted. (No more "up to $800" to scare people.)
  • Require acceptance of all major credit and debit cards, and then name all those that must be accepted. (The Baltimore County Finance office specifies which ones they accept - it used to be only Discover!)
  • Make it clear that the towing company is responsible for any damage done to the vehicle. (It seems to me that it is impossible to tow a car that is in "park" without doing damage. I don't think any company here has the equipment I once saw in Europe that directly lifted the car and set it on the truck.)
  • State that towing without meeting all of the requirements and prohibitions will be prosecuted as "vehicle theft" - a felony - and the company will lose their license.
  • Maybe it would also be a good idea to prohibit any towing company from making campaign contributions to Council members.

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Updated 3 Dec 2021 by MAP