Charity concerned about impact of towing costs on low-income families | Crime and justice

United Way of Frederick County is investigating whether low-income families and residents are being targeted by predatory towing companies, the organization’s CEO told Frederick aldermen on Wednesday.

United Way has received multiple reports of towing companies using ‘spotters’ to target vehicles in private lots that may be visiting family members or have improperly posted parking passes, the president and chief said. from management Ken Oldham to the aldermen during a working session on Wednesday.

Oldham said his organization is particularly concerned about the impact improper towing charges are having on individuals and families below the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) threshold, which is among the county’s 37% of households. who need financial assistance.

United Way has just started collecting information on the matter and the data can be hard to come by, but it has received five anecdotal reports of predatory towing, Oldham said.

He said he wasn’t talking about people parked in handicap spots or on snow emergency lanes during a winter storm.

A person in a city apartment complex was visited by a family member for about 15 minutes and had to pay $75 to have his car unhitched from a truck that came to tow it, Oldham told reporters. aldermen.

Another person they spoke to had a sign on their dashboard rather than hanging from their rear view mirror as required, and had to pay over $200 to get their car back.

Oldham acknowledged that although the two drivers were parked incorrectly, he is concerned about the methods used to report them.

The city already has an ordinance that prohibits scouting, Alderman Kelly Russell said.

Maryland has banned spotting since 2012, said Charles Parrish, co-chair of the legislative subcommittee of Towing Recovery Professionals of Maryland, an industry advocacy group, and resident agent and chief operating officer of a Baltimore towing service. .

“Scouting is not part of [of] nor accepted by all reputable companies or members of our association, and I am not aware of any member committing this unlawful act,” Parrish wrote in an email.

The spotting involves a third party, someone other than the owner and driver of the tow truck, and “is illegal anywhere in Maryland and any citizen who has been subjected to it should report it immediately to law enforcement or the Protective Division. of consumers according to their jurisdiction,” Parrish wrote.

He distinguished it from predatory towing, when a truck driver sits somewhere and waits for infractions to occur, which is also illegal.

“No one should be able to just sit and watch,” he wrote.

State or local laws regulate how tow truck companies do business, and his association’s bylaws include a code of ethics, he wrote.

The association also provides training to drivers and companies on issues ranging from paperwork to operating equipment, he wrote.

Oldham has asked aldermen to review the city’s current towing laws and ensure they are enforced, to have parking and towing signs in English and Spanish, to create a “declaration of towing rights” in clear, easy-to-understand language, and publicizing towing records and contracts between landowners and towing companies.

Alderman Derek Shackelford asked if Oldham had spoken to the owners about the issue.

Owners often call and report vehicles on their property that are improperly parked, Shackelford said.

Oldham said he suspects residential towing is fairly common, but a homeowner can have a vehicle towed without it being predatory.

The problem arises when a towing company pays someone to mark specific vehicles for towing, he said.

Shackelford said he didn’t mean to suggest that all towing companies are acting inappropriately and wanted to speak with members of the industry for suggestions.

He supported the idea of ​​a bill of rights and bilingual signage.

Russell said she once worked as a dispatcher for a towing company and there was a “likelihood” people were being paid to guard private land.

From towing companies and landowners to groups like Oldham, there are many people who can participate in further discussions on the issue, she said.

Some of Oldham’s suggestions may be easier than they think, Alderman Donna Kuzemchak said.

For ALICE families, towing costs can make a big difference in their lives, she said.

She considers bilingual signage to be “a no-brainer”.

But the city doesn’t have the resources to put a police officer in every community where illegal scouting likely occurs, she said.

” To prove [spotting] is a different story” than to suspect that this is happening, she said.

Follow Ryan Marshall on Twitter: @RMarshallFNP

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