Council Approves Zoning Change for Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear residents,

I am pleased to share that the Council voted unanimously, 9-0, to support the zoning proposal I introduced to allow more homeowners to build Accessory Dwelling Units.

An Accessory Dwelling Unit is a basement apartment or garage conversion or similar small housing unit that is added to a property.

I introduced this change so that the County could provide an opportunity that many families are seeking, to be able to provide a living arrangement that offers separation but proximity, independence but togetherness. We heard from retirees that they might use an ADU to age in place, and Millennials that they could use an ADU to better afford a mortgage.

We carefully reviewed concerns that were raised about impacts on schools, parking and the environment, and we made changes that achieve a balanced solution that will get a very tailored, practical result.

Details are below. Thank you to each of you who spoke out, whatever your views.


Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Approves Zoning Change
for Accessory Dwelling Units

Legislation sponsored by Councilmember Hans Riemer
would remove obstacles to lower-cost housing

ROCKVILLE, Md., July 23, 2019 – The Montgomery County Council unanimously adopted Zoning Text Amendment 19-01 today, removing significant barriers for homeowners who wish to build Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) on their properties. ZTA 19-01 was sponsored by at-large Councilmember Hans Riemer, who chairs the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee.

“The high cost of housing in Montgomery County is pricing people out,” said Councilmember Hans Riemer. “This important change allows homeowners to build housing that works for their families, and to create better options for renters in communities across Montgomery County. I am grateful for the careful deliberation of my colleagues and their unanimous support, as well as the strong advocacy of the smart growth community – working together we got it done.”

An ADU is a second, separate living unit on a lot zoned for single unit development. ADUs can be built by converting a basement into an apartment, adding an addition to an existing house, building an apartment over a garage, converting an existing shed or detached garage, or building a new backyard cottage. An ADU is distinguished from renting out part of a house because it is a totally separate living unit, with a separate entrance, bathroom and kitchen.

“I am proud to be a part of this Council team that worked hard to provide a creative solution with accessory dwelling units that fits the needs of Montgomery County,” said Council President Nancy Navarro. “We are in the midst of a region-wide housing challenge, and we need creative and effective strategies like this to address the availability of housing for our residents. I would also like to thank the community for their robust input and feedback. As a legislative body, we are committed to bolstering our code enforcement resources and taking appropriate measures to ensure that those who work here can live here and those who wish to retire here are able to do so in a safe and comfortable setting.”

ADUs are a popular solution for families that have relatives who want to live independently, but close by – such as an older grandparent or an adult child with disabilities. Also, the income provided by renting an ADU can make the difference in allowing seniors to age in place as the cost of living grows or allowing new families to be able to afford to buy a home in increasingly expensive areas. Finally, ADUs provide a more affordable option for people seeking to rent in many areas by increasing the supply of housing and reducing pressure on rents across the County.

“Affordable housing continues to be a complex issue in Montgomery County,” said Councilmember Will Jawando. “It affects seniors who would like to downsize and remain in their community or near their family; young adults who were born and raised in the county but cannot afford to live here on their own; and families with adult disabled children who are able to live with limited independence. ZTA 19-01 has gone through many work sessions in the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee and reflects changes based on input from County residents. ADUs do not represent an ultimate solution but instead provide one more alternative in the challenge to make housing affordable for all Montgomery County residents.”

“I appreciate the extensive and substantive community input we received throughout this legislative process and our efforts on the Council to thoughtfully address the issues and concerns of our residents,” said Councilmember Andrew Friedson. “Thanks to that feedback and careful deliberation, we reached a far better outcome on this zoning text change, especially with amendments limiting the size, maintaining existing parking requirements except in transit-accessible areas and introducing companion legislation to help monitor the impact of ADUs going forward.”

“I look forward to the positive benefits that will stem from the passage of ZTA 19-01, such as allowing more families to support their elderly relatives and family members in need, close to home,” said Councilmember Craig Rice.

ZTA 19-01 makes the following changes to the County’s zoning law covering ADUs:

  • Removes the prohibition on detached ADUs in lots smaller than one acre. The size of the detached ADUs must be the smaller of 10 percent of the lot size, 50 percent of the footprint of the principal dwelling; or 1200 sq. ft. Existing rules limiting the construction of accessory structures apply, including height limits, maximum lot coverage requirements, and stormwater requirements. In addition, the greater side and rear setbacks currently required for detached ADUs remain.
  • Removes the requirement for an additional parking space within one mile of Metro, Purple Line or MARC stations. Proposed ADUs require one off-street parking space in addition to the parking required for each detached house (typically two spaces). For areas outside of one mile, three off-street spaces are still required.
  • Allows for the conversion of existing, legally built structures into ADUs.
  • Clarifies that other rental uses (such as Airbnb) on a property that includes an ADU are prohibited.
  • Removes the prohibition on ADUs in new construction.
  • Removes the distance requirement restricting ADUs from being built within 300 to 500 feet of an existing ADU.

ADUs are a part of the Council’s continuing efforts to ensure that affordable, quality housing is available to residents at all income levels. While these units alone will certainly not solve the housing crisis, they do fill an important gap and can be paired with existing rental subsidy and other potential subsidy programs to reach an even deeper level of affordability.

ZTA 19-01 was first introduced on Jan. 15, 2019 and a public hearing was held on Feb. 26. The Council’s PHED Committee held three meetings before unanimously recommending adoption with amendments. The full Council reviewed ZTA 19-01 on June 18 and July 9 to make further amendments before approving the legislation today.

The changes will take effect on Dec. 31, 2019 together with Bill 22-19, which is a companion bill to amend the licensing code which was introduced on July 16, 2019. Bill 22-19 renames “Accessory Apartments” to “Accessory Dwelling Units” in the County Code, modernizes the standards for measuring basement ceiling heights, requires ADU applicants to certify that they meet any applicable HOA standards and notice requirements to affected HOAs, requires quarterly reporting on ADU issues by the County Executive, and requires that the property owner live on-site in either the principal dwelling or the ADU. A public hearing on Bill 22-19 is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 10 at 1:30 p.m.

Consejo discute sobre las unidades de vivienda accesorias

Estimado residente,

El 18 de junio, el Consejo del Condado discutió los cambios en el código de zonificación que apoyan a las “Unidades de vivienda accesorias” o ADUs.

Comenzando con lo que significa un ADU y lo que no significa: un ADU no es lo mismo que alquilar una casa o una habitación en una casa Un ADU es una residencia privada dentro de una casa, como un apartamento en el sótano; o una unidad de vivienda autosuficiente en el patio trasero o conversión de garaje.

Picture of an ADU


Para obtener un permiso y licencia de construcción para un ADU, la unidad o ADU que se planea construir debe ser privada y debe estar separada o tener una separación de la estructura principal, así como también debe tener su propia cocina y baño.

Hay aproximadamente 160,000 viviendas unifamiliares ocupadas por sus propietarios en el Condado y alrededor de 15,000 viviendas unifamiliares alquiladas. Pero solo hay 475 ADUs.

Los ADU son una solución de vivienda única ya que requieren la ocupación del propietario en su vivienda, por ello, puede implicar un compromiso mayor por parte del dueño de la casa ya que tener un ADU involucra un cambio de estilo de vida para el propietario.

Debido a que los ADU requieren una cocina, baño y entrada propia, así como posiblemente un estacionamiento en el lugar, los ADU requieren una construcción considerable. El costo de eso depende de muchos factores, similar a cualquier proyecto de renovación de una casa. Una modesta conversión en el sótano podría ser menos de $ 50,000, mientras que una unidad de vivienda autosuficiente podría ser 3 o 4 veces esa cantidad.

Beneficios de los ADUs

Vivienda asequible
Los ADU son generalmente más pequeños que las casas, por lo que son más asequibles como alquileres. Un apartamento de 900 pies cuadrados en el sótano o una una unidad de vivienda autosuficiente de 700 pies cuadrados se alquilará por mucho menos que una casa. Como consecuencia, los ADU pueden promover la integración económica y la diversidad en las comunidades al brindar acceso a viviendas más pequeñas y asequibles en áreas que de otra manera serían muy caras.

Envejecer en casa
Los ADU pueden permitir a los propietarios de la tercera edad y de ingresos modestos envejecer en su propiedad con una nueva fuente de ingresos al alquilar un ADU o al vivir en el ADU y al alquilar la casa.

Vivir en Familia
Los ADU también son una solución para los padres que buscan una arreglo de vivienda con hijos adultos o con abuelos. Si bien es cierto que todos pueden vivir en una sola casa sin ADU, tener privacidad en un ADU mientras se vive en familia es para muchos un arreglo más atractivo y positivo, incluso para familias con un hijo adulto con discapacidad.

Crecimiento inteligente
El beneficio final de los ADU es que agregan viviendas en donde ya hay infraestructura. Los impactos de estas unidades se encuentran dispersos en un condado que ya cuenta con aproximadamente 369,000 unidades de vivienda en total.

¿Cuáles son los cambios propuestos?

Desafortunadamente, en vez de recibir este tipo de vivienda como un beneficio para la comunidad, las reglas de zonificación del Condado generalmente tratan este tipo de vivienda como una molestia que debe ser evitada. Las restricciones de zonificación son una de las principales razones por las que el Condado solo produce unas pocas docenas de ADUs al año, un número bajo en comparación con las comunidades que las han adoptado y generan varios cientos de miles al año. El actual cambio de zonificación tiene como objetivo cambiar ese marco.

Las leyes actuales de zonificación del Condado de Montgomery prohíben basicamente las unidades de vivienda autosuficientes en patios traseros o las conversiones de garajes independientes. El código requiere que el dueño de una propiedad tenga al menos un acre para construir una ADU autosuficiente; los propietarios de viviendas que tienen un acre son los propietarios con menos probabilidad de necesitar construir uno; por lo tanto, no lo hacen.

La propuesta ante el Consejo, enmendada por el Comité de Planificación y Vivienda (donde presido como presidente con los miembros del Consejo Andrew Friedson y Will Jawando), limitaría el tamaño de las unidades de vivienda autosuficientes en el patio trasero de manera reflexiva y eficaz. La propuesta limita el tamaño de las unidades de vivienda autosuficientes al 10% del tamaño del lote.

En otras palabras, si tiene un lote de 6000 pies cuadrados, el tamaño máximo de la unidad de vivienda autosuficiente en el patio trasero que puede construir es de 600 pies cuadrados.

Las estructuras existentes (típicamente garajes) están exentas de esta regla, pues que ya existen y no hay un impacto visual adicional de la estructura, solo tendrían que cumplir con el código, claro.

Se permite que las unidades del sótano sean del mismo tamaño que el sótano de la casa, sea cual sea su dimensión.
El código existente del condado especifica que los ADU que se encuentran en el interior de una vivienda (normalmente los apartamentos de sótano) no pueden estar a menos de 300 pies del ADU más cercano. Esta restricción básicamente limita a un ADU por bloque. La propuesta actual del Comité elimina esa restricción, con la intención de apoyar los ADU.

Para esclarecer las inquietudes sobre el estacionamiento, la propuesta del Comité requiere que los ADU que se encuentren a más de una milla del metro o de la estación de la Línea Púrpura construyan un espacio de estacionamiento adicional en la propiedad o soliciten una excepción de requerimiento según la disponibilidad de estacionamiento en la calle.

En cuanto a los contratiempos como por ejemplo las restricciones de altura y el agua de lluvia, la propuesta no modifica ninguna de esas reglas del código existente para estructuras accesorias, las reglas que existen para los propietarios de viviendas son las mismas para los que quieran construir un garaje o estudio separado o una casa de huéspedes en su propiedad.

Si bien algunos dicen que deberíamos tener reglas más estrictas para los ADU que para los garajes, no concuerdo con esa opinión.

¿Qué protecciones se ofrecen?

Reconozco que hay algunos residentes que encuentran esta solución de vivienda un poco problemática. Si piensas asi, considera lo siguiente.

Ocupación del propietario
En primer lugar, la ocupación del propietario es un requisito. El propietario debe vivir en la propiedad. Eso naturalmente limita cómo se usarán los ADU. Por ejemplo, un inversionista no puede comprar una casa, agregar una ADU y luego alquilar ambas unidades.

Adicionalmente, el propietario deberá permitir que su propiedad se use de manera en que el propietario está dispuesto a sobrellevar. La histórica ciudad de Brookeville, que apoya firmemente los ADU, ha observado el beneficio de la regla de ocupación del propietario.

Prohibición de alquileres a corto plazo y otros límites de alquiler.
Otro punto clave es que las unidades no se pueden alquilar como alquileres a corto plazo (es decir, Airbnb). Los propietarios de viviendas del Condado de Montgomery tienen permitido, bajo ciertas circunstancias, alquilar sus casas o habitaciones en sus casas a corto plazo. Ese derecho no se extendería a los ADUs.

Cualquier propietario de vivienda que quisiera alquilar una habitación de un ADU a corto plazo tendría que eliminar las características de un ADU; como por ejemplo, una estufa o incluso la separación interna de la casa.

Como resultado, el espacio construido para un ADU tendría el mismo valor de alquiler a corto plazo que cualquier otro dormitorio de repuesto o espacio inutilizado.

Otra restricción importante es que no se permitirá ningún otro alquiler en la propiedad. Por lo tanto, un propietario no podría alquilar la casa principal o las habitaciones de la casa.

Inspecciones y cumplimiento de códigos.
Los ADUs tienen requisitos de licencia e inspección. Las licencias se pueden retirar por incumplimiento y las sanciones pueden ser fuertes.

Finalmente, después de escuchar las inquietudes de algunos vecindarios acerca del los ADUs y el problema de sobrepoblación y sobre la capacidad del Condado para realizar inspecciones de ADU, el Consejo ha decidido agregar 3 posiciones nuevas que se concentrarán en el cumplimiento de códigos y en las inspecciones en vecindarios residenciales. Los puestos serán ocupados pronto.

Sobre las escuelas

Una de las preguntas más frecuentes sobre la expansión de los ADU es sobre el impacto de esta nueva clase de vivienda en las escuelas. Dado que muchas escuelas están llenas, es una preocupación natural.

En orden de encontrar la respuesta, nuestro departamento de Planificación extrajo la lista de todos los ADU con licencia en el Condado y verificó la dirección de la propiedad con los datos de inscripción escolar en MCPS.

Lo que se dieron cuenta, es que las propiedades que tienen una casa y un ADU no tienen más estudiantes en promedio (0.464 estudiantes por dirección) que las propiedades con solo una casa (0.462 estudiantes). Para ser mas especifico, el punto de datos compara la casa y los ADU combinados, en comparación con las propiedades con solo una casa. No hay diferencia en matrículas escolares.

Considero que los datos mencionados en este blog son muy convincentes en cuanto a que los ADU son exactamente lo que hemos sugerido que serán: una solución de vivienda personalizada que hace una gran diferencia de forma pequeña y de manera específica.

¿Cuales son los siguientes pasos?

El martes 18 de junio, el Consejo del Condado sostendrá una sesión de recomendaciones sobre ADUs.

El Comité se reunió 3 veces en marzo y abril para resolver el problema, luego de una audiencia pública en Febrero. La Junta de Planificación también llevó a cabo una audiencia pública y sesiones de trabajo.

El Consejo considerará las enmiendas presentadas, si las hubiera, y luego se reunirá en una fecha posterior para votar.

Gracias por su atención; si ha llegado hasta aquí y tiene mas preguntas, no dude en contactarse con nosotros.


Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Concejal del Condado de Montgomery

Council to discuss Accessory Dwelling Units

Dear Resident:

On June 18, the County Council will discuss zoning code changes that support “Accessory Dwelling Units.” Here’s some important information I want to share with you.

Si prefieres leer mis comunicaciones de correo electrónico en Español, puedes suscribirte aquí.

Starting with what ADUs are and what they are not: An ADU is not the same thing as renting out a house or renting out rooms in a house. An ADU is a private residence inside of a house, such as a basement apartment; or a backyard cottage or garage conversion.

Picture of an ADU

A detached ADU in green on the left

To get an ADU construction permit and license, the unit must have separation and privacy from the house as well as its own kitchen and a bathroom.

There are about 160,000 owner-occupied single-family detached homes in the County and about 15,000 rented single-family detached homes. But there are only 475 ADUs.

ADUs are a more targeted housing solution because they require owner occupancy on the property. That requirement puts some organic limits on ADUs as the arrangement has to be something that the homeowner welcomes as part of daily life.

Because ADUs require a kitchen and bath and a separate entrance as well as possibly on-site parking, ADUs require considerable construction. The cost of that will depend on a lot of factors, similar to any home renovation project. A modest basement conversion could be less than $50,000, while a backyard cottage could be 3 or 4 times that amount.

Benefits of ADUs

More affordable housing
ADUs are generally smaller than houses so they are more affordable as rentals. A 900 square foot basement apartment or a 700 square foot backyard cottage will rent for a lot less than a house. As a result ADUs can promote economic integration and diversity in communities by providing access to smaller and more affordable housing in otherwise very expensive areas.

Aging in place
ADUs can enable older, modest-income homeowners to age in place with a new source of income by renting out the ADU or by living in the ADU and renting out the house.

Families living together
ADUs are also a desired solution for parents seeking a way to live with adult children or with grandparents. While they certainly can all live in one house together with no ADU, having separation and privacy from an ADU while living together is for many a more appealing and affirming arrangement, including for families with an adult child with disabilities.

Smarter growth
A final benefit of ADUs is that they add housing where there is already infrastructure. The impacts of these units are dispersed across a County that already has about 369,000 housing units in total.

What changes are proposed?

Unfortunately, the County’s zoning rules generally treat this housing type as a nuisance to be avoided rather than a resource to be welcomed. Our byzantine restrictions are a large reason the County is only producing a few dozen ADUs a year, a pittance compared to communities that have embraced them and create several hundred per year. This zoning change aims to change that framework.

Montgomery County zoning laws essentially prohibit backyard cottages or detached garage conversions. The code requires a property owner to have at least one acre in order to build one. Homeowners with an acre are the property owners least likely to need one and they don’t build them.

The proposal before the Council, as amended by the Planning and Housing Committee (where I serve as Chair with Councilmembers Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando), would limit the size of backyard cottages in a thoughtful way. The proposal limits the size of new cottages to 10% of the size of the lot.

In other words, if you have a 6000 square foot lot, the maximum size cottage you can build is 600 square feet.

Existing structures (typically garages) are exempt from this rule, as they already exist and there is no additional visual impact of the structure. They would have to meet code, of course.

Basement units are allowed to be the same size as the basement of the house, whatever footprint that may be.

In the existing County code, interior ADUs (typically basement apartments) cannot be closer than 300 feet to the nearest other ADU. This restriction basically limits them to one per block. The Committee proposal deletes that restriction, seeking to be supportive of ADUs.

To address concerns about parking, the Committee proposal requires ADUs that are farther than one mile from Metro or the Purple Line Station to build an additional parking space on the property or apply for a waiver based on available street parking.

As for setbacks and height restrictions and storm water, the proposal does not change any of those rules from the existing code for accessory structures — the rules that exist for homeowners who might want to build a separate garage or studio or guest house on their property, for example.

While some say we should have stricter rules for ADUs than garages, I don’t share that view.

What protections are provided?

I recognize that there are some residents who find this housing solution problematic. If you are among them, please consider the following.

Owner Occupancy
First, owner occupancy is a requirement. The owner must live on the property. That naturally constrains how the ADUs will be used. For example, an investor can’t purchase a house, add an ADU, and then rent out both units.

More generally, a property owner is only going to allow a property to be used in a manner that the owner is willing to live with personally. The historic Town of Brookeville which strongly supports ADUs has noted the benefit of the owner occupancy rule.

Prohibition of short-term renting and other rental limits
Another key point is that the units may not be rented out as short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnb). Montgomery County homeowners are allowed, under certain circumstances, to rent out their homes or rooms in their homes on a short term basis. That right would not extend to ADUs.

Any homeowner who wanted to rent out the bedroom from an ADU on a short term basis would have to remove the features that make it an ADU, such as kitchen equipment or even the internal separation from the house.

As a result, space built for an ADU would have the same short-term rental value as any other spare bedroom or underutilized living space.

Another significant restriction is that no other rental would be allowed on the property. So an owner could not also rent out the main house or rooms in the house.

Inspections and code enforcement
ADUs have license and inspection requirements. Licenses can be taken away for noncompliance, and penalties can be significant.

Finally, after hearing from some neighborhoods about general crowding of housing and concerns about the capacity of the County to conduct ADU inspections, the Council just added 3 code enforcement positions to focus on inspections in residential neighborhoods. Those positions will be hired soon.

What about schools?

One of the common questions asked about expanding ADUs is about the impact of this new housing on schools. Given that many schools are crowded, it is a natural concern.

To find out the answer, our Planning department pulled the list of all the licensed ADUs in the County and cross checked the property address with school enrollment data at MCPS.

What they learned is that properties that have a house and an ADU have no more students on average (0.464 students per address) than properties with just a house (0.462 students). To be clear, the data point compares the house and the ADU combined, versus properties with just a house. There is no difference in school enrollment.

Given the owner occupancy requirement, this should not be surprising, when you think about it. A property owner with a family might bring in grandparents or a tenant; or a retired couple might bring in a young family; but for one family on a property to add a second family as a tenant would have a big impact on that first family. That’s why it doesn’t really happen.

I find this data to be highly persuasive that ADUs are exactly what we have suggested they will be: a tailored housing solution that makes a very big difference in small targeted ways.

What is the process from here?

On Tuesday, June 18, the County Council will hold a worksession on the Committee’s recommendation.

The Committee met 3 times in March and April to work the issue through, following a public hearing in February. The Planning Board also conducted a public hearing and worksessions.

Presumably the Council will consider amendments raised, if any, and then come back at a later date to vote.

Thanks for reading. If you have made it this far and have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.


Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large

Council Committee amends proposal for Accessory Dwelling Units

Recommended zoning changes for ADUs include limits on size and lot coverage

ROCKVILLE, Md., April 16, 2019—In January 2019, Councilmember Hans Riemer introduced Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) 19-01, Accessory Residential Uses—Accessory Apartments, to support county residents who want to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) on their properties. An ADU is a separate housing unit on the same lot as the primary home. Examples include backyard cottages and basement apartments. These housing units are generally more affordable than existing housing stock and are often used as in-law suites or apartments for young people.

Following a Council public hearing as well as consideration by the Planning Board, the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee conducted three worksessions in March and April. PHED Chair Hans Riemer and Committee members Andrew Friedson and Will Jawando considered alternatives and amendments to the original proposal.

After making various changes, the Committee has concluded its work. The PHED Committee recommendations will go to the Council for review in mid-June with a vote expected this summer. The revisions advance the overall vision of allowing ADUs, while creating a proportional size standard to ensure that smaller properties will be limited to smaller detached ADUs.

PHED Chair Hans Riemer said,

“I am grateful for the substantial work my committee colleagues have devoted to this proposal. Accessory dwelling units are a housing option that should be available to homeowners in Montgomery County. They enable, for example, two generations of a family to live on one property — together, but with measured separation and privacy. We heard strong support for ADUs from both seniors and young families. As we look to the future of how families and communities are living, ADUs are a positive solution desired by many.

“The Committee recommendation responds to public feedback about the potential size of the units, among other issues. As we worked on the proposal we were mindful that homeowners can expand their homes already and frequently do. The Committee’s ADU proposal does not increase the amount of space a person can build on their lot. ADUs are subject to the same limits as additions — and in fact they are somewhat more restricted in smaller lot zones under this proposal.

“Careful research by our planning department has found that houses in the County with ADUs have no more children in the schools than those without ADUs. While some residents have voiced concerns about crowding of rental housing, county data does not support the assertion that properties with ADUs are a source of the problem.

“Separate research has also found that allowing ADUs will advance racial equity goals. I intend to follow up on that opportunity with additional measures.”

As amended ZTA 19-01 allows detached ADUs or backyard cottages in the R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones and removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU. Interior units would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size.

For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet, and 1,200 square feet would be the maximum size allowed. This would limit the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones

Parking requirements would remain the same as those found in existing Montgomery County law for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station. Generally, an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available on-street parking. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park (as requested by the City), there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

For more information about ZTA 19-01 as recommended by the PHED Committee, see the attached fact sheet or Council staff report.

Residents can also send their comments to the Council on this issue at or via social media using #MoCoTinyHouse.

Questions about the Committee recommendation may be directed to Council Attorney Jeffrey Zyontz at Questions for Chair Riemer may be directed to Chief of Staff Ken Silverman at

Fact Sheet

Backyard cottages: Detached ADUs would be allowed in areas of the County that are zoned R-60 (residential) and larger lot zones. ZTA 19-01 removes the requirement that only properties of one acre or larger may have a detached ADU.

Unit size and lot coverage: The size of an ADU would be limited to 1,200 square feet (unless the footprint of the basement is larger than that size and the basement is proposed for the ADU). Detached ADUs would be limited to ten percent of the lot size. For example, a 6,000 square foot lot could have a detached ADU no larger than 600 square feet. This limits the size of detached structures, particularly in smaller lot zones.

Parking: The current parking requirements for ADUs located more than one mile away from any Metrorail or Purple Line Station would remain the same. Generally, this means that an ADU applicant must build an additional parking spot or receive a waiver based on a finding by the hearing examiner that there is available parking on the street. Within one mile of such stations and within the boundaries of the City of Takoma Park there would be no additional on-site parking requirement for an ADU.

Distance restriction: The requirement that no ADU may be built within 300-500 feet of another ADU was removed.

Setbacks and height: Existing setback and height requirements for accessory structures were retained. This allows existing accessory structures including garages, guest houses (without a kitchen), offices, studios, and sheds. Setbacks for new ADUs would be the same as existing setbacks for accessory structures; however, an ADU that is 32 feet in length or shorter (i.e. container size) would not be required to have an increased setback.

Existing structures: Current law allows backyard structures like garages, guest houses, pool houses, offices, and sheds. In older neighborhoods, existing structures were often located closer to the lot line before modern zoning standards required setbacks. These could be converted to ADUs with some restrictions, if they were built legally at the time. For example, no new window would be allowed facing a neighboring property and adding height or expanding the footprint would trigger setback requirements matching new structures.

Additional rental prohibition: The proposal retains the prohibition on any other rentals on a property where an ADU is licensed.

Short-term rental prohibition: A property with an ADU license may not also have a short-term rental license (i.e., Airbnb) and an ADU cannot be used for short-term rentals.

Owner occupancy: As is the case under existing law, there is an ownership-occupancy requirement for a license.

Occupancy limit: The proposal retains the current ADU occupancy limit of two adults (and their children). New construction: The requirement that a new house cannot be constructed with an ADU already in it was removed, which would enable owners to design a new house with this feature.

Future Legislation
In addition to ZTA 19-01, the PHED Committee identified several additional provisions that will need to be modified in a subsequent bill amending the licensing section of the Montgomery County Code. These include:

  • The applicant for an ADU license must certify that they have reviewed their home owner association (HOA) rules and that an ADU is allowed by those rules.
  • Revise the ownership requirement in licensing to allow the owner to live in either the main home or the ADU.
  • Change the name of accessory apartments to accessory dwelling units to match the standard terminology in other jurisdictions.

Further Discussion
Many important issues emerged during the ADU discussion and will be presented for Committee discussion in the future. They include:

  • Racial equity analysis: An outreach plan will be developed to include low-income communities, so all residents are aware of the opportunity to build ADUs and ways to expand financing options for homeowners of all incomes.
  • Objection process: The current licensing law (unchanged by ZTA 19-01) allows a neighbor to object to an ADU based on a claim of insufficient parking, even if the applicant has met the parking requirement in the code. The hearing examiner can apply additional requirements or reject the application.
  • Enforcement staffing and budget: A review of staffing in the Department of Housing and Community Affairs will occur to make sure that applications are processed in an efficient manner and that inspections and enforcement measures are robust.
  • An evaluation will occur to review how fees will be used to support ADU code enforcement and outreach.
  • The Committee will also review if there needs to be a fee waiver provision for ADUs constructed for individuals who have disabilities.

Do our kids have a place to live here?

Dear resident,

For most of us, housing is our biggest expense — by far — and the rising cost of housing has created an affordability crunch that works against our community’s inclusive vision.

Millennials and young families seeking a starter home, retirees looking to age near their kids, immigrant families trying to gain a foothold; they are all swimming against the current of our regional economy and our housing market.

As Chair of the Council’s Housing and Economic Development Committee, I am committed to working on real solutions, not just talking about the problem. I want to share a few of those solutions with you.

Creating new housing that is affordable

The Committee has met for several weeks to consider the future of the Veirs Mill Road corridor. In addition to working hard on road safety issues, we grappled with the challenge of how to push developers to build housing for low- and moderate-income families.

The larger garden-style apartment complexes in the area are a critical housing resource for moderate-income families, and have been for decades. The complexes need modernization though and they are in a transit-served location (walkable to both Twinbrook Metro and future Veirs Mill BRT). More housing here meets our climate protection goals, but we don’t want to lose an affordable housing resource.

The solution that I proposed, in collaboration with Councilmember Friedson and Council President Navarro, was a “no net loss” housing redevelopment strategy. The idea is straightforward. The new housing will have two components: 1) new market rate housing 2) as many units provided to the County’s regulated affordable programs as the current development has today.

Although the existing units are affordable because they are older, they are not regulated for price protection and could be renovated and leased at much higher rents at any time. To incentivize the property owner to redevelop–and thus lock in new price regulated units–our solution provides sufficient density to make the project profitable, enabling them to get loans to finance the redevelopment.

I hope that the full Council will support our vision and that this plan will be a win for our ongoing efforts to promote affordable housing through smart redevelopment and public private partnership.

I have also introduced legislation to strengthen a tax credit for new development that provides 25% or more of its units to our affordable housing programs — which is already getting results with new affordable housing expected in downtown Bethesda among other locations.

Basement apartments and backyard cottages

One housing trend that is really working against both young adults and retirees is the rising cost of single-family housing. Particularly in areas that are a reasonable commute to urban centers, the supply of single-family homes is fixed but the demand keeps growing, resulting in higher values and taxes.

One solution that is increasingly popular is the basement apartment or the backyard cottage. Backyard cottages are a great way to create a separate living quarter that provides independence, but at the same time proximity and family togetherness, if used by family or friends.

Today our zoning code does not allow a backyard cottage on a property smaller than one acre, which pretty much excludes everyone. Basement apartments are limited to roughly one per block, on only one side of the street (there is a 300 foot distance requirement).

As I have written about in previous emails, I have proposed a zoning amendment – ZTA 19-01 – to ease certain prohibitions on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). I recognize that the proposal is controversial, and many people have asked about the potential impact on our schools. The Planning Department has reviewed school enrollment at all of the existing ADUs in the County and determined that properties with an ADU generate slightly fewer public school students than properties without an ADU. Therefore, there is no distinct impact from ADU’s.

My proposal also retains many important restrictions, including a requirement for owner occupation (meaning both units can’t be a rental), a prohibition on additional room rentals on the property (meaning the properties can’t be crowded with multiple tenants as some single family houses may become), and a prohibition on short-term rental (no Airbnb) for both the main house and the ADU.

The Housing Committee will take the issue up next Monday, March 18.

Why this matters

Housing affordability has a major influence on a community’s economic development. Companies want to locate or expand where they know they can find the workforce they need — which is about the education and skills of the workforce but also if that workforce can afford to live there.

We have the talent to support job growth in many economic sectors, but for how long? How many of our children will be able to live here, or will choose to live here when they can spend less to live somewhere that is also desirable?

That’s a big challenge, and we have to think differently about how to meet it.

Hans Riemer Signature

Hans Riemer
Councilmember, At-large