Help! in Cambridge, MA

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances (and how to change' started by alleyesun, May 4, 2009.

  1. alleyesun

    alleyesun New Egg

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    Apr 22, 2009
    Cambridge
    I know (of) other people who keep chickens in Cambridge. I have two chickens and three ducks. They are quiet and I keep them clean. Their coop/run is totally vermin proof and I take their food in at night.

    Today, the second day they have lived in their coop, a neighbor must have complained because a health/building inspector came over and told me that though he didn't know of anything in black and white, he thought we could not keep our birds.

    These birds are pets to me and I love them. Frances the chicken likes to sit on my shoulder. Potassium the duck likes to sit on my lap and be stroked. They love each other. When one duck is being held, the others complain until they get her back. When one chicken is being held, the other hops on the person holding her. I really don't want them taken away.

    I know that having them is not illegal (yet) but I'm worried that it will be! I don't know where to start. I'm just a big ball of panic!

    The inspector cited reasons I thought I'd addressed i.e. attracting vermin, the structure they're in (which is not set in the ground and was built by a carpenter friend who is at least mostly familiar with the laws about permits/structures), simply that keeping livestock isn't permitted in cambridge... He told me he'd "look into it" and get back to me (aka, find all possible reasons it wouldn't be ok and make a case against it).

    What it comes down to: I live in a 9 year old co-op with six other people amongst neighbors who've lived here forever (at least 25 years). I am part of the "other" that is gossiped about and resented. We try to be polite. We tell our neighbors when we are going to have parties and give them our numbers (we don't have that many parties - a hand full a year), we respond to their complaints (i.e. not having a bird feeder, removing our wood pile). We lend their children our basketball. We share gardening advice. I guess I should have anticipated this. I thought that if I chose quiet varieties and took good care of them and gave our neighbors eggs when they began to lay, the neighbors wouldn't mind. Our neighbor's tenants think it's cool that we have chickens. *sigh*

    How do I begin to do what I have to to keep my girls?
     
  2. b.hromada

    b.hromada Flock Mistress

    First of all, this is how it all starts, with the neighbors. Same scenario here as well. You need to find out your laws in Cambridge to see if you are allowed chickens as pets. You have some good statements too, like you are not attracting any vermin, etc. These are some of the cities complaints it seems. I'm in the process of trying to get our city to allow chickens as pets in our backyards. As of the present time, I keep my girls inside until about 3ish, then they can run around, catch bugs, enjoy the sun, dust bath till around 8 p.m. I've been doing this now for over a month, and it seems to be working just fine! The only problem is the clean up for me in the afternoon each day! [​IMG] I love them, and to me, its well worth it, and they seem quite happy too! I wait till around 3ish, because of them laying their eggs, and they can get quite loud! Oh, get this though, our city says that there is no problem with me having my 3 ducks? Can you believe that? [​IMG] Don't get me wrong, I love my ducks too, but they are much messier and noiser than my chickens!
    Let us know what you find out, okay? Best of luck to you.
     
  3. Sonoran Silkies

    Sonoran Silkies Flock Mistress

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    Tempe, Arizona
    First find out if chickens, ducks, poultry or waterfowl are specifically prohibited. From your wording, these are obviously pets, not livestock, but you may need to verify the definition of livestock and make that argument.

    Do you believe the neighbor lives in your co-op? (not sure exactly what that is as far as housing goes--I've familiar with co-ops for purchasing and sales, but not housing) or in the surrounding neighborhood? If it is a person fromyour co-op, the concern may be co-op rules rather than city ordinances or code.

    What is the zoning specifically where you live. Most cities have many different residential zones, and the rules differ.

    The idea of complaining about a neighbor's bird feeder or a woodpile is absurd.

    It is illegal to make a law retroactive, so if a new ordinance were to be passed, you would almost certainly be grandfathered in and allowed to keep your pets. However, if it comes up for considerations, be sure to actively complain against it and collect petition signatures from residents supporting the keeping of chickens and ducks.

    But to me it sounds like the concern you should be paying attention to now is what might happen, but rather determining that you are in compliance with code.
     
  4. vfem

    vfem Yoga...The Chicken Pose

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    Quote:Agreed! Know your rights...

    and referring to a co-op, also known as a Home Owners Association in a neighborhood. These HOA groups have MANY more rules they inforce in a neighborhood. Some neighborhoods don't allow more then 1 tree per yard, and everyone's mailbox has to be black!

    They can fine you, put liens on your property and force a foreclosure on your property. They collect dues from you so they can inforce what the collective of neighbors want. So be careful... they are hard if not impossible to reason with!!!
     
  5. Sonoran Silkies

    Sonoran Silkies Flock Mistress

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    Didn't sound like an HOA, and not all HOAs are like that. Some are, and your rights vary by state.

    When you buy property that is part of an HOA you are entering a legally binding contract. If you disagree with the terms of the contract (the CC&Rs), don't purchase there. Same as purchasing property in a town where you don't like the zoning code.

    Assessments are paid to cover the cost of mainentance of common areas, build a Reserve Fund for large maintenance expences that occur only periodically, pay for utilities in common areas and similar expenses. At least in Arizona, and I expect in many other states, the lien on your property exists from the time of purchase. Foreclosure for unpaid assessments is not a great deal different than having your property seized for not paying taxes. Some HOAs have been abusive in their handling of fines and foreclosure, but more and more states are passing laws to limit abuse and level the playing field.

    If rules are changed, lobby against the rule changes you dislike and/or run for the board to expound the ways you would like to see your neighborhood governed. CC&R changes must be voted on by the membership--they cannot be changed at the whim of the board.
     
  6. alleyesun

    alleyesun New Egg

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    Apr 22, 2009
    Cambridge
    There are not laws explicitly forbidding chickens in Cambridge. I've read this over and over again, searched the city codes and found nothing.

    A man, Charles Eccles, has been keeping chickens for decades and successfully won legal battles on the grounds that his chickens are pets, not livestock. He lives in my neighborhood. I know of another couple who keeps chickens in my town.

    The only rule about ducks is they can't roam at large or be in the street. So no problem there. The inspector guy basically said that though there might not be anything in black and white, he would look to see if there wasn't a reason they were forbidden and get back to me. He told me he was pretty sure we couldn't have them. He did not state anything specific. He brought up vermin and the structure they live in as concerns and I tried to address them. I don't think he was convinced.

    The co-op I live in is a "cooperative living group." They dealt with all of the legal stuff nine years ago. I am a fairly recent resident/member. I think there is resentment towards us because we are young and live in an atypical arrangement. Who wants a bunch of friendly yuppies moving into their neighborhood? Not my neighbors. They'd rather have an older couple move in and rent out two thirds of the house like they do. We comply with them more than we legally have to because we don't want them to hate us but it seems like they do anyway because we are different.


    The neighbor most likely to have complained is politically active in Cambridge. I am a 25 year old preschool teacher.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2009
  7. Sonoran Silkies

    Sonoran Silkies Flock Mistress

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    Talk to Mr Eccles and ask for his suggestions on how to proceed; copies of the court documents showing that he won his suit, and that your claims are near identical are probably useful.

    Courts don't like to reverse previous decisions, but rather use them as guidelines; the city's legal department is probably going to go on record saying that the decision has already been made and they are allowed as pets.

    Depending on how code is worded, and the stipulations put in way at the beginning, just because something is not prohibited does not mean it is permitted. A couple of days ago I looked at someone else's code to help them figure it out and it specifically said that only uses that are specifically spelled out are allowed, other uses are prohibited.

    You can certainly continue trying to appease your neighbors, but in my mind it sounds like an unequal relationship. If you give, give, give to all demands, and never make any requests of your own, you will lose their respect for your independence and maturity. It will be like a parent to child relationship--which has its place, but not between adult neighbors. Better to meet and calmly discuss compromise--how their desires and yours can each be met to some extent, if not perfectly.
     
  8. daniellem

    daniellem New Egg

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    Apr 30, 2009
    Ahhh the good old People's Republic! Best of luck... I'm interested to see what happens with this. Cambridge... the safe haven for everything but chickens. [​IMG]
     
  9. Chickenmaven

    Chickenmaven Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 6, 2009
    Michigan
    Quote:"The inspector guy" is F.O.S. He is trying to convince you to get rid of your birds in order to appease the person who complained. You do not have to explain anything to him. The more you talk to him, the more cannon fodder he has. Wait for him to cite you. I am betting he can't.
    BTW: I am a woman who interacts with male, municipal types all the time. I smile & nod & do nothing until I receive official notice.
     
    1 person likes this.
  10. erinm

    erinm Posting For A change

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    Central Massachusetts
    i think you have too many neighbors that like to interfere with others business! Move your wood pile? tell them when you are having a party? Take down your bird feeder?Why don't you give them your first born? This is why i totally disgree with HOA's and subdivisions with really cliguey groups, they are so big brother and cannot mind their own business. Why do people have to care what the neighbor is doing if it is not affecting them? I hardly think a bird feeder affects a neighbors quality of life! ErinM
     
    1 person likes this.

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