Thursday, October 4, 2012

New Maryland Towing Law Immediately Impacts Community Association Towing Procedures

By: Ruth O. Katz, Community Association Attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, MD
 
As of October 1, 2012, community associations throughout the state of Maryland must comply with new towing laws prior to towing or removing a vehicle from association property. The new towing laws affect all Maryland associations that have more than three common area/common element parking spaces. Although the full regulations are lengthy, below are the highlights of provisions now impacting community associations.

Maryland Towing Signage Requirements
New signage provisions require every community association that tows vehicles from common spaces to have at least one sign for every 7,500 square feet of parking space. Each sign must:
  1. Be at least 24 inches high and 30 inches wide;
  2. Be clearly visible to the driver of a motor vehicle entering or being parked in the parking lot;
  3. State the location to which the vehicle will be towed or removed and the name of the towing company;
  4. State the hours during which the vehicle may be reclaimed. (State law requires that the vehicle be available for reclamation 24 hours per day, 7 days per week);
  5. State the maximum amount that the owner of the vehicle may be charged for the towing or removal of the vehicle;
  6. Provide the telephone number of a person who can be contacted to arrange for the reclaiming of the vehicle by its owner or the owner’s agent. 
Authorization from Parking Lot Owner Prior to Towing
Prior to towing or removing a vehicle, the towing company must have authorization from the parking lot owner (an authorized agent of the association) to tow or remove the vehicle, which includes:
  1. The name of the person authorizing the tow or removal (typically a manager or board member);
  2. A statement that the vehicle is being towed or removed at the request of the parking lot owner; and
  3. Photographic evidence of the violation or event that precipitated the towing of the vehicle.
Mandatory Return of Vehicle to Owner

Before a vehicle is removed from a parking lot, a tower who possesses the vehicle shall release the vehicle to the vehicle owner or an agent of the owner:
  1. If the owner or agent requests that the tower release the vehicle;
  2. If the vehicle can be driven under its own power;
  3. Whether or not the vehicle has been lifted off the ground; and
  4. If the owner or agent pays a drop fee to the tower in an amount not exceeding 50% of the cost of a full tow.
 As this towing legislation is currently in effect, associations should cease all towing from common area/element parking areas until they have complied with the signage and authorization requirements above.

Furthermore, as the full towing statue includes other requirements (that mainly affect towing companies), we recommend that the association ensure its towing company is aware of the new requirements because as the lot owner, the association can be held liable for inappropriate tows. Additionally, associations should amend their towing contracts, if possible, to include indemnification language that would require the towing company to indemnify and hold the association harmless from any illegal or improper tows from the association’s property.

Associations also should be aware that individual counties may adopt more stringent requirements in addition to this new Maryland towing law. As such, associations should review these issues with its towing contractor and attorney to determine how this new law will effect their specific association. In some cases, when read together, the Maryland State law requirements combined with the local county/city regulations may result in additional obligations beyond that addressed here.