Towing From Private Property - Trespass Tow Licensing

The Office of Consumer Protection is responsible for licensing and regulating companies that tow vehicles from private property without the permission of the owner of the vehicle. Howard County Code Sections 17.600 - 17.611, commonly referred to as the "Trespass Tow Law," sets forth the licensing and operation requirements that trespass tow companies must follow.

Licensing Requirements

Trespass tow companies must be registered with the Office of Consumer Protection (OCP) before any trespass towing can be performed in Howard County.  

To register, tow companies must provide OCA with:

  • A completed application form;
  • Its schedule of rates for the towing and storage of vehicles (not to exceed the maximum rates set by annually by the Howard County Council);
  • A copy of the current registration certificate issued by the Maryland Motor  Vehicle Administration for each tow truck operated by the company;
  • Proof of insurance coverage for each tow truck operated by the company;
  • Copies of the tow slips and receipts used;
  • A signed copy of the Tow Procedures acknowledging the company’s receipt and understanding of the procedures;
  • $150 license fee.

Towing Requirements and Prohibitions

The following information is just a summary of the actions required or prohibited by the Trespass Tow Law.  For more details please refer to the trespass tow provisions of the Trespass Tow Law directly.

The tow service must have a signed contract with the owner or property manager of the property from which vehicles can be towed.

The tow service and/or property manager must post warning signs on the property that include the following information:

  • the parking restrictions enforced on the property, including time and area restrictions;
  • a warning that unauthorized vehicles can be towed at the vehicle owner’s expense,
  • the name, address and telephone number of the towing service,
  • the maximum fee that can be charged,
  • a statement that vehicles can be redeemed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,
  • a statement that vehicle owners can contact the Office of Consumer Protection at 410-313-6420.

Warning signs must be at least 24” tall and 30” wide and able to be read by motorists day and night. At least one sign must be visible from the parking area and at each entrance. If the parking area has more than 45 parking spaces, one sign must be posted for each 45 spaces and each sign must be able to be read from each affected space.

Vehicles with valid handicapped license plates or properly displayed disabled person’s parking permits may not be towed from private property without the vehicle owners’ consent unless: the tow is authorized by a police, fire or rescue officer, or the vehicle is blocking a clearly marked fire lane or access to another vehicle, property or building.

If the owner of a vehicle returns after the vehicle has been attached to the tow truck but before it is towed, the owner may ask the company to release the vehicle.  The tow service must comply but may charge a release fee of no more than the amount set by the County Council.

The tow service must obtain the specific authorization of the property owner or manager prior to towing any vehicles from the property. Towing companies cannot utilized "spotters" to look for unauthorized vehicles. An unauthorized vehicle may be towed without the express authorization of the property manager only if it is directly blocking a clearly marked fire lane or access to property or a building on the property.

Vehicles cannot be towed solely for failure to display a valid current registration sticker until 72 hours after a notice of the violation is placed on the vehicle.

The tow service must notify the Howard County Police and Office of Consumer Protection of the tow within one hour of leaving the property.

The storage facility used by the tow service must be located no more than 12 miles from the origin of the tow and must be open for redemption of towed vehicles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The tow service's rates may not exceed those set in the County's fee schedule. The rates must be prominently displayed at the storage facility along with a sign that summarizes the vehicle owner’s rights and contains the telephone number of the Office of Consumer Protection.