Credit: File photo

The Montgomery County Council is considering a proposal that would increase the number of accessory dwelling units, known colloquially as in-law apartments, by removing restrictions on where they can be built.

Accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, are small apartments that are in or on the same property as a home and can be used as an independent living space with kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms. The apartments are commonly used by family members or rented out.

At-large council member Hans Riemer, who is sponsoring a bill to change some rules, said existing restrictions “completely stymie” the ability of many homeowners to build the units.

“I’ve heard people with stories coming from their adult children or grandparents who want to have this type of living and can’t,” he said. “I don’t think people anticipated that the restrictions we put in place would have the negative impact that they did.”

Many of the processes for acquiring an ADU permit were implemented by the council in 2013 at the request of the Planning Board, with the intent of streamlining the application process, wrote Riemer’s chief of staff Ken Silverman in an email. Prior to the regulations, there were about 30 new ADU’s created per year, which increased to between 40 and 50 per year after 2013.

Riemer’s proposal would:


– Allow detached apartments on a case-by-case basis in six of the seven areas of the county that are zoned as “residential detached.” Currently only three of the residential zones allow ADUs.

– Allow ADUs to be built in basements.

– Delete the 1,200-square-foot maximum size requirement of an ADU and the 800-square-foot maximum size requirement of an addition that can be used as an ADU.


– Delete minimum distance requirements for space between ADUs.

“The intent is to establish an effective ordinance that will embrace ADU’s and not regulate them out of existence,” Riemer said.

Riemer added during Tuesday’s meeting that a number of homeowners with a family member who has a developmental disability have expressed a desire to build an ADU.


Riemer said Los Angeles’s initiative to create 100,000 more ADUs is a model the county should look at. Mayor Eric Garcetti hopes to reach that number by 2021 in order to help solve the city’s affordable housing crisis. Garcetti’s plan would involve placing ADU’s close to transit hubs and cutting red tape that developers have long complained about, according to published reports.

“They [in Los Angeles] view this as part of an overall housing solution to promote affordability,” Riemer said.

Riemer will hold a community forum on ADUs at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Council Office Building in Rockville. So far he said he has received 175 RSVPs.


Dan Schere can be reached at