Public asked to weigh-in on predatory towing bill in Montgomery County

About two dozen people testified Tuesday night before Montgomery County Council's Public Safety Committee about a plan to prevent aggressive and predatory towing. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
About two dozen people testified Tuesday night before Montgomery County Council’s Public Safety Committee about a plan to prevent aggressive and predatory towing. (WTOP/Michelle Basch) (WTOP/Michelle Basch)
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About two dozen people testified Tuesday night before Montgomery County Council's Public Safety Committee about a plan to prevent aggressive and predatory towing. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

WASHINGTON — Complaints about aggressive and even predatory towing have increased in recent years in Montgomery County, and a bill meant to fight these practices got a public hearing Tuesday night.

“My vehicle was towed within I think 6 or 7 minutes,” Brian Young testified before County Council’s Public Safety Committee.

Christopher Whitehouse said what he went through amounted to “auto theft by tow truck.”

Another person who had his car hooked up and towed away, Jimmy Duncan, had nasty things to say about one company.

“They have thugs driving some of these tow trucks,” he said.

“If you follow the signs, you won’t get towed,” said Rick Chambers, who owns three towing companies.  “This law is protecting the violators.”

Business owner Matthew Palmer said people who park illegally at his business, even just for a short time, are hurting him.

“They really just don’t have a concept that that few minutes can cost that business a customer, and that’s long term damage,” Palmer said.

The towing bill, introduced by County Councilmember Roger Berliner in April, would ban the use of spotters. Spotters are people towing companies use to notify them of when and where someone parks illegally and can be towed.

The bill would also get rid of an exemption in county law that allows cars to be towed during overnight hours without notifying the property owner.

But at the hearing, Berliner said that the bill failed to differentiate between commercial and residential properties, and he’ll introduce amendments to fix that.

“We tried to contact all the homeowners associations who basically all said, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m going to have to have somebody to answer the phone at 2 o’clock in the morning?’ And we said, OK, we get it.”

County Executive Ike Leggett is also proposing changes to the bill.

One of them would ban towing companies from charging a person a fee if that person returns to his or her car before it is towed away.

Leggett also wants to make clear that towing companies can’t charge a fee for allowing a driver to inspect or collect personal property from their car.

Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman spelled out Leggett’s ideas at the hearing.

“I welcome your good suggestions and look forward to the Public Safety Committee melding our two approaches and making the strongest bill possible,” Berliner responded.

A committee work session on the bill is tentatively set for June 29, so anyone who would like to submit written comments to the committee is asked to do so by the close of business Wednesday, June 24.

 

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