Predatory Towing Could Get Worse
Eric Friedman has fielded complaints about aggressive trespass towing for years and despite much publicity about towing practices in private parking lots, the problem isn't subsiding. As Montgomery County officials and the County Attorney's Office figure out how to implement the state's new towing laws, Friedman, director of the Office of Consumer Protection, says Bethesda's problem could get worse. "We would expect things are only going to get worse in Bethesda. With all the construction, we're losing some of the parking lots," Friedman said. "We have a post office in Bethesda that has no parking, yet it's right next to a parking lot for a mattress store and a Verizon store. The number of complaints has stayed consistent." Friedman is hosting an online chat Tuesday, Oct. 9 titled "What You Need to Know About Towing in Montgomery County." A few days ago, the Office of Consumer Protection got a complaint from a man who parked in a parking lot at supply store Staples. The man said he went in and purchased something from Staples then quickly stopped at a shop nearby to pick up a pizza. When he returned to his car, it was being loaded onto a tow truck. The tow tuck driver identified him as a walk-off, meaning his car was parked in the private Staples lot but he strayed from Staples. "That was a $50 pizza," Friedman said. Tow companies can charge up to $50 to release a car if a driver returns to the car before it is towed out of a parking lot. Friedman said many don't know that rule and think tow truck operators are eliciting a bribe before towing the car away. The maximum fine for retrieval of a car once it gets to a tow company's lot is $168. Friedman said the new state law makes things more complicated. Many of the regulations mirror ones already in effect in Montgomery County. County attorneys are preparing a comparison chart to present to the state, with the hopes of clarifying how the new rules will work.