Free Legal Advice Is Worth What You Pay For It

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances' started by BigPeep, Jun 22, 2009.

  1. BigPeep

    BigPeep Songster

    May 27, 2009
    I have only been involved in the BYC site for a short time since getting my chickens. However, I have noticed a pattern to the posts on the ordinance topic.

    People who post here have tended many times to have just hauled off and put in chickens without bothering to check local zoning laws and any subdivision covenants or restrictions. Then there is a complaint and now they are in trouble. There will always eventually be a complaint. It's just a matter of time.

    You have now really put yourself under the gun as the complaint will usually trigger a daily fine until you get rid of the chickens . There will then be a hearing scheduled if it is an ordincance violation, where you will have to "scramble" to assemble your arguments and support for why the ordinance either doesn't apply to you or should be changed. If you show up and are the "Lone Rooster" in town who wants chickens, they are likely to view you as a "bad egg" and deny any variances. Worse, this will set a recent precedent that will make it more difficult to make changes later.

    Assuming you are reading this BEFORE you get the chickens, or at least before anyone has complained, here is what I would do:

    (1) Research all applicable ordinance and, if you are in a planned subdivision, any covenants and restrictions. Do this under the table so as not to alert anyone that someone is looking into it. If you call to find out and they either don't have a restriction or the one they have is faulty, they may try to clean it up.

    (2) Once you have done as much research as you can, schedule a consultation with a local attorney who does ZONING cases (not just real estate closings), to confirm your conclusions. The consultation will cost you less than building a coop and having to tear it down later.

    (3) If there is no ordinance or other restriction, go ahead with the chicks .

    If the restrictions are vague or ambiguous and leave some wiggle room, you might want to go ahead but also molify the neighbors by avoiding roosters and bringing them some eggs from time to time. Maybe have a yard party. Find others in the area who also want chickens and form a group. That way if you are challenged, you have the support of your neighbors and others. Salt away some money for legal costs.

    If the ordinance or restrictions are iron clad (ie. "no person shall have chickens in the city limits"), start assembling a group of people who are like minded and put together a "dog and pony show" (in this case a "chicken and egg show"), for the appropriate council or association. Include examples of other places that have allowed chickens and maybe get the video "Mad City Chickens" and show it to them. Check out the website for how they did it in Madison, WI.

    If you live in a rural area, this may not apply to you so use your best judgment. People normally only have problems where they are under residential zoning of some kind.

    I am an attorney and former township and county planning commissioner in Illinois and recent chicken owner. Please consult with an attorney in your state for appropriate legal advice.
  2. ranchhand

    ranchhand Rest in Peace 1956-2011

    Aug 25, 2008
    I think this info is important and relevant enough to revive the thread!
    Maybe make it a sticky?

    Thanks for the great guidance.
  3. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
    Sticky please!
  4. Sonoran Silkies

    Sonoran Silkies Flock Mistress

    Jan 4, 2009
    Tempe, Arizona
    Agreed: sticky please
  5. gardencricket

    gardencricket In the Brooder

    May 16, 2009
    Believe it or not this whole website should be a sticky for anyone wanting to start out and for the old timers with chickens or "fowl" of any kind. I love this site and I am glad I joined.

    This thread definatly needs to be a sticky!!
  6. valereee

    valereee Ordinance Wrangler

    Apr 30, 2009
    To this I'd add: If you find that the laws or your neighborhood covenants are against you, but you'd still like to go ahead, DON'T SURPRISE THE NEIGHBORS. Before you get your chickens, talk to everyone who will be able to see your coop from their yard, even if they have to stretch their neck to do it. Explain what you're doing and address any concerns. Emphasize that you are strongly motivated NOT to annoy the neighbors with smell, noise, or an eyesore coop. Explain that roosters aren't necessary for eggs. Ask them to let you know if there's EVER any problem, and promise to take care of it immediately with no hard feelings.

    Then, follow through. Place your coop where it isn't in anyone's view from their deck. Screen it with shrubbery if you need to. Make sure it looks good if you can't. If you accidentally end up with a roo, get rid of it before it starts to crow. Keep the chickens contained. Start handing out eggs the minute you start getting them -- a half-dozen eggs every couple of weeks will go a long way to making people see the bright side of having a neighbor with chickens. Invite them over for a drink and a little chicken-watching. If a neighbor does have a concern, address it without getting bent out of joint. A lot of cities won't enforce these kinds of laws until there's a complaint, so make sure you give your neighbors nothing to complain about.

    Whatever you do, don't assume you can get the chickens and no one will notice, be alarmed, complain before they have something to complain about, or come to you before they call the police. Your neighbors will notice. Some will immediately think there's going to be crowing, noise, mess, or smell. Some will complain before any problems actually occur. Many people would rather make a semi-anonymous call to the police than risk coming to you first if they aren't sure you'll cheerfully deal with a potential problem, because they're afraid if they come to you, you don't solve the problem or potential problem, and THEN they go to the police, you'll know it was them and might try to get revenge.

    Katrina89 likes this.
  7. ohiofarmgirl

    ohiofarmgirl Songster

    Jan 22, 2009
    to add to this:

    If you live in a rural area, this may not apply to you so use your best judgment. People normally only have problems where they are under residential zoning of some kind.

    not necessarily. make sure you are zoned for ag use AND make sure there are no 'deed restrictions' on your property. some of the big "country" real estate firms buy up the big farms, divide into 5, 10 or 15 acre plots.. then restrict the use!!! and yes they CAN do it and no you cant get them taken off with out a fight!

    we were horrified when a property we were THIS CLOSE to buying had deed restrictions that wouldnt allow more than 10 pieces of poultry and no swine! so we moved on. the next property had restrictions about what kind of fencing you could put up. it took us over a year and we finally found somewhere that there were no deed restrictions. we couldnt believe it.​
  8. BigPeep

    BigPeep Songster

    May 27, 2009
    Thanks for reviving the thread. I wrote another one called "Talk is cheep unless you are talking to a lawyer" along the same vein.

    Good point about the rural deed restrictions. We would call this "Ag/Rural" or "Estate" zoning where I am located.

    I have the original ag zoning even though I have only five acres and am surrounded now by subdivisions. I had gotten a straight run of chicks initially and now have three roos crowing. ONe of the neighbors came over with her little girl who wanted to see the rooster they were hearing. They were thrilled when all three started crowing back and forth to one another and said that all the neighbors like the chickens and like the crowing. It makes them feel like they are out in the country. They paid extra to have lots next to my farmette so they had a view of some open space and a barn.

    If all of my chicks develop I am going to have an excessive number of roos so I am looking for folks who want to take them, no questions asked.
  9. redhen

    redhen Kiss My Grits...

    May 19, 2008
    Western MA
    What if your town has no ordinance? I sent my husband to the town hall to get it and they said they dont have one for chickens. Then they said to check with the health dept... so then he went to the health dept.,and they said check with the town hall! [​IMG] So...where does that leave me then? From what i am understanding unless someone complains you can have them. question is...what if someone complains? if they have no written ordinace will i STILL have to give up my birds if i get a complaint?
  10. valereee

    valereee Ordinance Wrangler

    Apr 30, 2009
    Have you asked the police what they'd do if they got a chicken complaint? They're probably as or more familiar with the actual ordinances than anyone else.


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