Last October, Maryland passed a law requiring towing companies to send drivers a letter within three days of hauling off their cars as part of a regulation designed to "unify" state practices and address predatory towing practices.
But Montgomery County lawmakers are saying that an unintended consequence of the law is that some drivers are being forced to pay upward of $60 for the towing letter, which is often sent out after they have picked up their car.
Eric Friedman, director of the county's Office of Consumer Protection, told a County Council committee Thursday that the new law is creating predatory practices and is unnecessary given the already stringent county laws.
The county law doesn't require a letter but is superceded by state legislation. The state legislation also makes it illegal for towing companies to hire people to be lookouts for illegally parked cars.
Friedman said his office looked into whether the county could opt out of state law but was met with resistance.
"[The new state laws] make Montgomery County [laws] more complicated," Friedman said Friday. "That was an unintended consequence."
Del. Doyle L. Niemann, D-Prince George's, sponsored state legislation to create a unified trespass towing law for the state, which passed in October.
Another unintended consequence: Differing laws between state and county practices can create confusion for tow truck drivers, so illegal towing might occur by accident. Towing is currently the Office of Consumer Protection's No. 1 complaint.
Friedman said officials are trying to educate towing companies about the new state laws to reduce illegal towing and are also lobbying to amend some language in the legislation to make the state laws more aligned with the county's -- including getting rid of the letters companies are now required to send.
Councilman Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, said he would be willing to support the office with legislation if necessary. Niemann said Friday he is working with Montgomery County to find a solution that works for everyone involved.
"We will do what we can to try to resolve some of the conflicts that may exist without undermining the framework of the law that we created," he said.
The new state law is also angering some towing companies within the county. Local towing company G&C Gulf Inc. is suing the state and the county, asking that the letter and the spotter provisions be thrown out. The company claims they are unconstitutional.