County officials debate 'in-law' apartment rules; Changes may let owners rent accessory dwellings


The county commissioners tabled plans yesterday to hold a public hearing on proposed zoning amendments that would give homeowners who have "in-law" apartments the right to rent them to people other than relatives.

"I think this is an issue we need to revisit," Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge told her colleagues and members of the county planning staff.

The commissioners are expected to hold a work session on the topic within two months.

If adopted, the proposed amendments would allow homeowners in residential and conservation zones to build and rent "in-law" apartments. Under current regulations, such apartments cannot be rented.

The proposed amendments would also allow property owners in agricultural districts to rent tenant houses to people who are not relatives. Tenant houses now must be used by a relative of the property owner or someone who works on the owner's farm.

The previous Board of County Commissioners agreed on a draft version of the legislation in November and ordered a public hearing. Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who has one tenant house on his Westminster dairy farm, recused himself from voting then.

During yesterday's meeting, Dell asked that the board consider giving property owners in agricultural districts the right to subdivide their property so they can sell a tenant house and adjoining land. That proposal was rejected by former Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates.

"Allowing [the creation of] a couple of lots doesn't bother me, if that's what it takes," Dell told his colleagues and planning staff yesterday.

He also recommended that the board consider allowing owners to rent the principal home and accessory dwelling if they are unable or unwilling to live on the property. The proposed amendment would require the property owner to live in the principal dwelling.

"I feel people have a constitutional right to do what they want with their property," said Dell, a vocal proponent of private property rights.

Gouge expressed concern about the proposal, saying it might lead to absentee landlords. She suggested the board consider creating an appeals process that would allow property owners and their neighbors to address such issues.

The county has at least 42 tenant houses and 120 in-law apartments, according to George Beisser, zoning ad-min-is-tra-tor for the county.

Pub Date: 2/19/99

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad