Takeaway: The Maryland General Assembly made changes to the Maryland State Transportation Code, effective October 1, 2012, regulating towing procedures for all Maryland community associations.
Applicability of State towing law (Sec. 21-10A-01(b)(2))
The new law applies only to the towing or removal of vehicles from “parking lots”, which are defined as privately owned facilities consisting of three or more spaces for motor vehicle parking that are accessible to the general public and are intended to be used by residents and guests.
Signage Requirements (Sec. 21-10A-02)
The state law now requires at least one sign for every 7,500 square feet of parking space in the parking lot. Each sign must:
- Be at least 24 inches high and 30 inches wide
- Be placed in conspicuous locations
- Be clearly visible to the driver of a motor vehicle entering or being parked in the parking lot
- State the location and name of the towing company to which the vehicle will be towed
- State that “State law requires that the vehicle be available to be reclaimed 24 hours per day, 7 days per week”
- State the maximum amount that the owner may be charged for the towing of the vehicle, and
- Provide the telephone number of a person who can be contacted to arrange to reclaim the vehicle
Authorization (Sec. 21-10A-04(A)(5))
Before towing or removing the vehicle, the parking lot owner (the Association or authorized agent) must authorize the towing company to tow the vehicle. Authorization must include:
- The name of the person authorizing the tow or removal of the vehicle
- A statement that the vehicle is being towed or removed at the request of the parking lot owner, and
- Photographic evidence of the violation or event that precipitated the towing of the vehicle
Notice (Sec. 21-10A-04(A)(2)-(4)
The person undertaking the towing or removing the vehicle (the tow company) must give notice to the police department in the jurisdiction where the parking lot is located and to the owner of the vehicle, any secured party, and the insurer of record.
Notice to the Police Department
Notice to the police department must be made within 1 hour after towing or removing the vehicle from the parking lot, and the notice must include:
- Description of vehicle, including the registration plate number and vehicle identification number
- Date and time vehicle was towed or removed
- Reason vehicle was towed or removed, and
- Locations from which and to which the vehicle was towed or removed
Notice to the Vehicle Owner, Secured Party, and Insurer of Record
Notice to the vehicle owner, secured party, and insurer of record must be made by certified mail, return receipt requested, and first-class mail within 3 days, exclusive of days that the towing business is closed, after towing or removing the vehicle from the parking lot. Notice must include:
- The same information required in a notice to a police department and
- Itemized actual costs of providing notice
Luckily for community associations, the obligation to send this notice falls on the towing company, not the association.
How Does the New State Towing Law Affect the Local County Towing Laws?
There is nothing in the state law that prevents a local authority from adopting more stringent local towing laws. However, both, state and county requirements must be met when towing from a parking lot.
What Are the Differences Between the State Law and the Local County Towing Laws?
- Signage Requirements (Sec. 30C-4(b)(1) – (5): New state sign requirements mean that an association now cannot tow from a parking lot after placing a notice on the vehicle, without posting the required signs, as previously permitted under County Code Section 30C-4(b)(6). Signs are now required and both state and county sign requirements must be met.
- Authorization (Sec. 30C-3(e)): Since state law now requires authorization for towing each individual vehicle (except when blocking a fire lane or access to the property), towing companies now may not tow a vehicle from a parking lot without the property owner’s express authorization between the hours of 2:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m., as previously allowed under county law.
- Notice (Sec. 30C-5): Both state and county notice requirements must be met when towing from a parking lot. The state law requires the towing company to provide the notifications. The county law requires the property owner, or the property owner’s agent, to provide certain notifications to the police department before the vehicle is removed from the property.
Prince George's County
- Signage Requirements(Sec. 26-142.02-03): Any signs, permits or stickers or other method indicating authorized parking on posted property must be approved by the County as to design, size and content. In addition, all signs must include the international tow truck symbol. Both state and county requirements must be met with regard to the content requirements of each sign.
- Authorization (Sec. 26-142.01): Since state law now requires authorization for towing each individual vehicle (except when blocking a fire lane or access to the property), towing companies now may not tow a vehicle from a parking lot without the property owner’s express authorization between the hours of 9:00 P.M. and 6:00 A.M., as previously allowed under county law.
- Notice: Both state and county notice requirements must be met when towing from a parking lot. Similar to the state law, Prince George’s County requires that the tow company give notice to the police department.
Other Legal Implications of the New Law
A towing company has filed a lawsuit challenging the new state towing law. We will be following the progress of this case to see if any aspects of the new law are affected by court decisions. In the meantime, all towing agreements should be reviewed for possible revisions necessary to ensure compliance with the new law.