How to Research Your Local Chicken Keeping Laws: Where to Begin

Discussion in 'Local Chicken Laws & Ordinances (and how to change' started by SewingDiva, Jul 19, 2008.

  1. SewingDiva

    SewingDiva Chillin' With My Peeps

    I have some experience in this area because I’m trained in legal research and I've also been through the process of seeking a zoning variance for our home renovations and I had to research my local regulations when we decided to have chickens.

    The following is offered only for educational purposes and it is NOT legal advice. If you feel you need legal advice please consult an attorney. I’m not an attorney.

    Where to Begin
    Start with your local government. If you live in an urban/suburban developed area it will likely be your city or town government. If you live in a rural or agricultural part of the US it will likely be your township, borough, or county government. Don’t start at your State level because in the US state government long ago ceded jurisdiction to local governments for issue such as backyard chicken keeping.

    First here are some legal terms and what they mean:

    Ordnance, Regulations, Bylaw: all means the same thing. These are local laws (statutes) administered and enforced at a local government levels.

    Zoning Variance: This is a permanent exception to a zoning law granted by your local government. An example of a variance would be a chicken coop that is allowed to stand 10 feet from a lot line when the ordnance says it must be 30 feet. Generally, a variance is granted when there is no way for the property to meet the regulation due to special circumstances. A variance is hard to get, because it’s a permanent exception to a law. It stays with the property.

    Special Permit: A Special Permit is granted when there is some kind of non-conforming situation where the structure does not meet the zoning code but a variance is not warranted. Special permits apply only to a particular situation and are not grandfathered. If the structure is torn down the special permit expires.

    Appeal: This is a second chance to prevail when your initial request for a permit is denied. The purpose of the appeal process is to give the appellant a chance to prove the initial decision was wrong based on the law.

    FAQ’s

    Who is in charge of chickens in my local government?

    This can vary quite a bit by jurisdiction, and here are some examples of local offices that regulate chickens:

    Board of Health
    Animal Control
    Code Enforcement
    Zoning Board

    The office that manages this issue will be the place to start to locate the regulation. If your local government has a good website, you can often find the regulations there. Many parts of the country are still building their web sites and this information may not be available on-line. In that case, you need to go in person to read a paper copy of the regulation.

    A few things to look out for:

    Don’t assume that all of the information you need is one place, in one regulation
    For example: You may read a regulation that tells you how many chickens you can have in Residential Districts A, B, C & D. You will then need to go find out what district you live in to understand what applies to your situation.

    Don’t rely solely on what civil employees tell you.
    If a citizen is given wrong or inaccurate information regarding local laws by a civil employee, and the citizen relies on that information to their detriment, the civil employee and the government will generally not be held responsible for the error.

    So even if you speak with a civil employee who should, due to their job, be in a position to know what the chicken keeping regulations might be for your town, and they give you the wrong information, they are not held responsible for the ramifications if you act on the wrong information.

    Yes it’s true, and this has been argued in a lot of case law. Basically, statutes are public records, and each citizen is expected to read and understand the law for themselves. You should never rely on hearsay information from a civil employee.

    If you feel you may not have all of the information, you probably don’t.
    Many jurisdictions have regulations that are incomplete, or completely silent, on the issue of chickens, and this can make it harder to know what to do. In a case like this, do not rely on what people tell you, and if you really think you need to speak to an attorney then do so.

    References to State statutes in local regulations
    Often you will see, in a local regulation, a reference to a state law. It never hurts to also look up the state law to see if it shines any additional light on your situation. Often you can just Google the citation to the state law and find it right away. Each state has it own unique citation style, and an example from my state is below. This happens to be a state statute that regulates the sale of baby chicks:

    M.G.L. Ch 272, §80D

    This means “Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 272, Section 80D” .The symbol “ § “ means “section” in legal citation.


    Here is a link that explains state law citation codes for each state in the US:

    State citation codes


    Finally – be dogged and persistent until you are 100% comfortable that you have ALL of the information you need.

    [​IMG]
    ~Phyllis
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2008
  2. So if you research the codes and find ordinances for every other kind of farm animal, except chickens, where would you go from there?

    Our town codes is specific regarding poultry...
    -you must have a license to cook and sell it.
    -it becomes a nuisance (sp?) when fowl run loose in village limits.
    -poultry farms are only allowed in rural zoned areas.

    Thats it. Nothing about backyard flocks, or as pets. Of course "domestic pet" was defined as any animal normally kept as a pet.
     
  3. SewingDiva

    SewingDiva Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:Well, unfortunately I can’t specifically answer your question, because it would be offering legal advice and I can't do that :|

    That's a question you need answered by the town that is "Does a chicken qualify as a domestic pet."

    To me there seems to be two ways to look at this:

    1) An ordnance that is silent on your situation is not necessarily a bad thing, because you can use the incomplete wording of the ordnance to argue in favor of a change. One way to provoke that change would be to actually apply for a permit (if your town has that) and then see if they reject it. If it’s rejected then there should be an appeal process, which will force the town to revise the ordnance.

    Or

    2) Go ahead and get chickens, then see what happens with an ordnance that doesn't address your situation. This may not be a bad thing either, because a person can't exactly violate a regulation that doesn't exist, and if they come after you the flaw in the ordnance will be self-evident and the town will need to address it.

    ~Phyllis
     
  4. My thoughts exactly. Thanks.
     
  5. Rhett&SarahsMom

    Rhett&SarahsMom Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 8, 2008
    Quote:Well, unfortunately I can’t specifically answer your question, because it would be offering legal advice and I can't do that :|

    That's a question you need answered by the town that is "Does a chicken qualify as a domestic pet."

    To me there seems to be two ways to look at this:

    1) An ordnance that is silent on your situation is not necessarily a bad thing, because you can use the incomplete wording of the ordnance to argue in favor of a change. One way to provoke that change would be to actually apply for a permit (if your town has that) and then see if they reject it. If it’s rejected then there should be an appeal process, which will force the town to revise the ordnance.

    Or

    2) Go ahead and get chickens, then see what happens with an ordnance that doesn't address your situation. This may not be a bad thing either, because a person can't exactly violate a regulation that doesn't exist, and if they come after you the flaw in the ordnance will be self-evident and the town will need to address it.

    ~Phyllis

    That is what the people in my city that own the pony did. There is nothing on the books about keeping A pony or even a horse within the city limits.
    Now. Building a stable and running it as a business is a completely different thing. But the pony is being kept as a pet. So that made a difference to the city and the board when it was brought before them. Reading the minutes, which were posted online, was more helpful than trying to find the actual codes that were involved. And it was entertaining as well since the ponies owner won.

    There was another case involving two horses and close neighbors as well. The horse owner won that fight as well. Basically because the horses and property were being well kept and were "pets" not a business. So. If my girls ever come up. I get to bring these two cases up in defense of my pet chickens [​IMG]
     
  6. Right, there are restrictions in our village code regarding poultry farms. Nothing on chickens as pets, backyard flocks.
     
  7. First To Hatch

    First To Hatch Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 30, 2008
    New York
    What if your ordinance talks about fowl in only one zone, Agricultural Zone A, I'm in zone R-20 it doesnt even mention any type of animals.
     
  8. SewingDiva

    SewingDiva Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:You might need to do more research to be see if your district is restricted to animals defined as pets.

    For example, in my town pot bellied pigs are defined as pets,and are exempt from the animal keeping permit regulation applied to chickens. However, any other type of pig other than a pot bellied pig is not a pet, and does fall under the regulation.

    ~Phyllis
     
  9. First To Hatch

    First To Hatch Chillin' With My Peeps

    463
    0
    139
    Apr 30, 2008
    New York
    Nothing that says what animals are considered pets there is a search thing I've typed in pets, fowl, birds, poultry, ducks, geese, quail nothing mentioned it only thing that returned anything was fowl and pets pets was you must keep them fenced in.
     
  10. ibpboo

    ibpboo Where Chickens Ride Horses

    Jul 9, 2007
    always changing
    This is definition for pets where I live

    21.06.870 Pets.
    “Pets” mean commonly domesticated household animals.
     

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