Montgomery County residents looking to rent out apartments in their homes now might have an easier time winning approval from county officials.

After almost 10 years of discussion, the County Council finally approved a zoning amendment and a bill that simplify the process of getting a permit to rent out space in a single-family home.

Residents no longer have to apply for a special permit from the county -- instead, they can enter a streamlined process if the apartment fits the criteria defined by the zoning text amendment. Some of the criteria include the homeowner must live in the residence, it can be no larger than 1,200 square feet and must have parking available.

The rules
Some of the requirements to apply for an accessory apartment license include:
• Homeowner must live in the house he/she is renting from.
• Must include either on- or off-street parking.
• Houses that add accessory apartments must be at least five years old.
• There can be no more than two adults living in the apartment, but there is no limit on children.

The new process also allows for neighbors to challenge applications.

Council members and residents have gone head-to-head over the issue, with some praising the county's move for creating a variety of housing options and others concerned that renters will abuse the system.

The idea of easing the accessory apartment process was introduced under former County Executive Doug Duncan in 2004, and was revived in the fall when the Planning Board sent the issue to the council.

"We've made a million compromises," said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large. "I would urge us to appreciate there will always be folks who have issues with accessory apartments, but the bill that has been amended by council to get to this point, I think, will achieve our affordable housing and is realistic and rational."

Councilwoman Valerie Ervin, D-Silver Spring, said she supported the initiative but suspects residents will take advantage of loopholes or won't follow rules like parking restrictions and occupancy limits.

Residents have expressed similar concerns. At a public hearing in December, multiple residents raised that issue: What would happen to neighborhoods and schools when accessory apartments were being built and overoccupied?

Andy Leon Harney, of Chevy Chase, suggested the county perform on-site inspections every year to combat that problem. Others, like Marilyn Piety, of the Sligo-Branview Community Association, questioned how current accessory apartments would be grandfathered in.

Others said the move is a step forward in creating more housing options for county families.

"It's been bouncing back and forth for about ... 10 years," said Ben Ross, of the Action Committee for Transit. "It's time to move on and get something [done], and I think that this compromise bill does that."