Spooky Tow Lots Leave Customers in the Dark - NBC4 Washington
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Spooky Tow Lots Leave Customers in the Dark

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    Several towing companies in Montgomery County violate laws about keeping lots staffed and well-lit. News4's Scott MacFarlane reports on how the violations leave people in the dark. (Published Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015)

    Montgomery County, Maryland, investigators said they’ve received formal complaints from citizens about a series of tow yards along a dark stretch of road near the Shady Grove Metro station in Rockville.

    At least five tow companies are operating out of lots on a small road near Route 355, which is unlit at night and considered by the county to be an illegal safety hazard to customers trying to retrieve their towed vehicles.

    A News4 I-Team investigation found some of the companies operating lots in the pitch black along a winding and deserted stretch of road. At least two of the companies were actively towing cars to those lots into the night, according to the I-Team review. Doing so, according to county investigators, is a violation of Montgomery County law, which requires all tow company lots to be well-lit and accessible to the public.

    Until the I-Team contacted the property landlord, the street remained unlit. I-Team cameras captured video of newly illuminated lights Tuesday evening after making several inquiries.

    The five towing lots are tightly packed along Paramount Drive. The road is lined by barbed wire, beware of dog signs and large piles of gravel and debris. The I-Team’s review of the neighborhood required night-vision cameras to film some of the cars sitting in the tow lots.

    Derrick Petit, a Maryland man whose car was towed to one of the lots in question, said he was scared to enter the area to retrieve it.

    “I’m a 200-pound man, and my Uber driver didn’t feel safe leaving me there,” he said.

    The tow operations’ ability to operate in violation of safety requirements indicates the challenge county officials face trying to enforce current towing laws.

    “Lots have to be well lit,” said Eric Friedman of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection. “It’s a firm law.”

    Until county towing laws change in December, his office is unable to issue fines against tow companies, Friedman said.

    Instead, those fines would have to be issued to the owners of the parking lots from which cars are being towed.

    Under recently updated county law, which takes effect Dec. 1, the county will be empowered to issue fines against towing companies for failing to provide proper lighting.

    A man identified as landlord of the tow lots said the darkness is the result of a tow company failing to pay its electricity bill. The landlord told the I-Team he agrees the street is too dark for business to be transpiring after dark.

    The county was able to secure a refund for one of the customers who filed a formal complaint about the darkness she encountered trying to retrieve her car after dark, Friedman said.