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Ocean City

State policy causes headaches for resort towing operations

(June 28, 2013) You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your tow truck.

At least not anymore, under a Maryland law that has proven to be particularly onerous to Ocean City’s seasonal demand for vehicle removal.

“It’s the dumbest law I’ve ever seen,” said Igor Conev of Mann Properties, the island’s largest building management firm that has gone through considerable headaches over the policy.

Late last year, the state amended its vehicle code to require that towing signs in publicly-accessible lots feature the name and phone number of the towing company that will be used to remove any unauthorized vehicles, as well as where the vehicle can be recovered and notice that it must be available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Requirements for signs’ visibility and wording were also further specified.

This meant a complete replacement of all signs to meet the new standards. But that has turned out to be the least of the problem.

In Ocean City, the town’s own code already mandates that property owners purchase from the town and post a standardized towing notice. The town also requires – as stated on its required signage – that all vehicles be towed to the municipal impound lot at 65th Street, which can be accessed around-the-clock via the Public Safety Building.

But the fact that the sign must now feature the name of the specific tow company to be used effectively restricts resort properties to using one tow provider, whereas before they were able to call whatever company had a truck available.

“The law probably makes sense for every part of the state other than Ocean City, where they’re not all towing to the same place and they’re not doing so many tows at the same time,” Conev said.

Massive confusion has been caused in the state’s urban areas by unknown tow companies taking vehicles to their own private yards. But Ocean City’s tow system is already streamlined in that regard, and the new state policy threatens to cripple a resort that features massive parking lots with high seasonal demand for towing.

“We tried to spread out the companies by location, with a different tow company for every couple blocks,” said Conev, whose firm manages properties from Dorchester Street to the Delaware line. “Still, if my preferred vendor is ‘x’ company from 50th Street, and I have to use them downtown, there’s no way they’re going to make it.”

The city requires that property owners or managers fill out an application for each sign needed. To try to ease the burden, however, the city does not require that the specified tow company be named on the form, only that properties post a sticker or additional signage with the selected company’s name in order to comply with the new state policy.

“Luckily, the town has been very understanding and easy to work with, and they didn’t make us submit on the application which company we’re going to use. They just told us we can put the name and address on a sticker later,” Conev said.

That policy has created its own issues, however. Conev said that the stickers frequently don’t stay on the signs.

“I don’t know if it’s kids messing with them, or if there are some really competitive tow companies, but I’ve has stickers disappear just about every other day,” Conev said.

At a recent City Council meeting, Councilman and Police Commission Chair Doug Cymek said the Ocean City Police Department had become aware that some tow companies were playing dirty with the stickers.

“One particular tow company has been placing their stickers on tow signs without authorization,” Cymek commented.

What was anticipated at the state level to be a minor change has resulted in a massive undertaking for many large property owners and property management firms in the resort.

“It was expensive, it took a lot of man-hours to go in and submit all the applications, get the signs, and figure out the logistics,” Conev said. “It’s really an unnecessary expense, in my mind.”

“The heart of the season hasn’t really kicked off, so we haven’t had to scramble yet. We try not to tow if at all possible, so we haven’t had any real problems. But I’m assuming we will in a couple weeks,” he said.

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