A controversial method of towing cars persists in Montgomery County, despite a newly passed law to combat so-called predatory towing, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
The new law, set to be officially signed by the county executive this week, will not take effect for at least three months, a county official said.
I-Team undercover cameras showed a towing company continuing to use an operation at a Rockville lot that the county consumer protection agency said is unlawful under both new and prior towing laws. I-Team video shows the tow operator patrolling a private parking lot across the street from the busy Rockville Town Square. The driver of the tow truck is seen watching the movement of cars on and off the lot. The video shows the driver snapping photos of cars left behind by drivers who park illegally on the private lot. The I-Team video shows, within minutes, the tow truck driver hooks and removes the cars he photographs.
The I-Team recorded the towing operation on a lot owned by operators of a pair of office towers in the 400 block of Hungerford Drive. It is just one of several parking lots in which drivers illegally deposit their cars in an increasingly parking-starved county. Montgomery County officials report more than 30,000 cars towed in the past year.
The towing process recorded by the I-Team is illegal, according to the county’s Office of Consumer Protection Director Eric Friedman. Tow operators, under existing law, must first receive authorization from a property owner and then notify police before towing a vehicle, Friedman said. Under the newly approved law in Montgomery County, tow companies must get written authorization and must not park their vehicles on the property for which they are towing, Friedman said.
Friedman, after watching the I-Team footage, said, “(That towing) is not legal now, it wasn’t legal 20 years ago and it won’t be legal when the new law takes effect. The towing company knows that. The property owner has to authorize every single tow.”
A manager of the tow company involved said his driver’s system is legal, because it doesn’t utilize an independent spotter or “lookout” for illegally parked cars.
"Our driver is well within the law with what he's doing,” the manager said. “He's on the property. He's observing people and taking the picture.”
County Councilmember Roger Berliner said the newly passed towing law will eliminate uncertainty or confusion about the legality of towing operations.
“If they (illegally tow), they will get caught,” Berliner said.
But the impact of the new law is still uncertain. Towing companies told the I-Team they expect to challenge the new ordinance in court. The manager of the tow truck working on the Hungerford Drive parking lot said his employees will continue to use their current methods on that lot until the newly passed ordinance officially takes effect later this year.