Accessory Apartment Bill
The Montgomery County Council on Feb. 5 unanimously approved Bill 31-12 that changes and clarifies rules allowing owners of single-family homes to create accessory apartments for renters. Under many circumstances, the average application process will be reduced from approximately six months to three. The bill maintains the rights of neighbors to express concerns about applications and to get hearings if requested.
Montgomery County first allowed the creation of accessory apartments in 1983. For much of the past decade, discussions have been ongoing to simplify the approval process. The provisions of Bill 31-12 create a separate licensing process for accessory apartments in combination with changes to the approval standards addressed in Zoning Text Amendment 12-11.
Regulations in some communities that have Homeowners Associations may be prevented from creating accessory apartments by the rules and covenants of the community associations. Renovated living quarters created for family members where rent is not being paid are not considered accessory apartments.
The changes will go into effect on May 20. The new regulations chiefly apply to situations that do not require special exceptions. The County’s accessory apartment law does not apply to municipalities with their own zoning authority, such as Gaithersburg, Rockville and Poolesville.
“This unanimously approved legislation reflects Montgomery County’s community-based commitment to finding paths to housing for all residents,” said Councilmember Nancy Floreen, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee. “Best of all, it requires no public funds to implement.”
The bill requires the posting of a sign on the site of an accessory apartment application. This will be more like a sign posted for a special exception than a sign posted for a building permit. Notices do not have to be mailed to neighbors for most applications, but would be required for special exceptions.
The bill has provisions both for neighbors who object to the granting of a license and for applicants who are originally denied a license. Among the factors that could determine whether a license is approved is whether adequate parking is available.
The County’s Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCA) licensing and registration section estimates there are currently 405 licensed accessory apartments in the County. About half of those units are located in Takoma Park. In the past 12 months, there were 22 new applications for accessory apartments, most of which were outside of Takoma Park. The current fee for an accessory apartment license is $38, but it is expected that fee will increase.
Two significant factors could lead to an applicant’s need to seek a special exception. One scenario would involve if the location is within 300 feet of another accessory apartment. The other would focus on whether adequate onsite parking would be available or if the apartment would adversely impact the street parking available in the neighborhood.