request for advice - South Brunswick Township, NJ


6 Years
Apr 26, 2013

I've just joined Backyard Chickens, and am seeking advice on how to proceed on an order from South Brunswick Township to remove chickens and rooster from my property.
I had a rooster for the past months that someone complained about, and now have a letter from South Brunswick Township ordering me to remove chickens and rooster from my property by May 20. (rooster has of course been removed)

The enforcement officer told me I can either do an appeal/request for reinterpretation in front of the Zoning Board (will cost me $375, and according to enforcement officer, they will vote against me anyway) or they will send me to court, with fees of up to $2,000/day for disobedience, if I don't comply with order to remove chickens. There are probably other options in trying to change the policies or revoke the order - or ignore my case - that they didn't tell me about.

South Brunswick Township ordinances don't explicitly prohibit chickens. A number of people have them, but they only go after someone if there is a complaint. Their argument then is that since chickens are permitted in the ordinances under agricultural zoning, they're not allowed in residential (see ordinance below). However, there is no specific ordinance explicitly prohibiting chickens in the residential zone. The problem was the complaint - and of course my mistake in keeping a rooster for some months.

Most of my 7 chickens are beautiful heritage/endangered breeds, laying different-colored, gorgeous, delicious eggs. It will be a real shame to lose them, especially for my children.

I have been researching online, networking with other chicken owners (two others have agreed to join the cause if we can figure out what to do), have ordered the mad city chickens documentary, posted on two holistic moms groups for advice, and just now joined your forum and excited to see so many others have dealt with these issues.

I would greatly appreciate any advice on how to proceed.

Here are the pertinent ordinances:

Sec. 62-612. - Uses permitted.

The following uses are permitted in the RR rural residential district:
Single-family dwellings.
All farm and agricultural activities, including nurseries, small animal, livestock and poultry raising. The feeding of swine or other livestock upon garbage or similar refuse material is specifically prohibited.
The sale of farm produce, poultry products or dairy products which have been raised on the farm from which they are to be sold.

Under Animals, General (enforcement official refused to even discuss the following section with me; they base their argument purely upon the above clause; logic is, if it's allowed in RR rural residential, it's not allowed in R2, the residential areas)

Sec. 14-2. - Noise.
(I understand this to mean no roosters, or no chickens bothering neighbors.. ie it's a problem if it bothers neighbors)

No person owning, occupying or having in charge any stable, house or other premises shall keep or have or allow thereon any cattle, calf, chicken or horse or other animal which shall by noise disturb the quiet or repose of anyone in the vicinity.
(Code 1988, § 141-13)
Sec. 14-3. - Running at large. (this to me sounds like chickens are indirectly allowed? but again, Enforcement Officer refusedto discuss this clause with me)

No person shall allow any cattle, horses, swine or chickens or any other animals, except carrier pigeons, cats and dogs, to run at large in the township, but such fowl or animals shall be confined in a suitable house or coop with an enclosed runway. No part of such coop, house or runway shall be less than ten feet from neighboring property lines and 35 feet from any building occupied by human beings, whether for dwelling or business purposes.
(Code 1988, § 141-14)

I am not sure about how you fit into the zoning. In my mind and the interpretations of many laws that I have read, if something is not prohibited, then it is allowed.

It seems as if they are going out on a limb on this one. If the noise complaint is about the rooster, then removing the rooster should solve that matter.

If this is a noise complaint, then it should be handled as such. It seems to be a great leap to make a complaint about a rooster's noise, if that is what this is, into an order to remove all chickens. If it were a noisy party or remodeling activity, you would have a chance to cease and desist. In other words, turn the music down, do the sawing during regular business hours.

This would not be the first time authorities expanded upon something to make it more than it is. What municipal employees interpret to be one thing may be quite different from what the law actually says.

I would be looking for a young, hungry attorney set to make a name for himself; and go to court.

I am in zone R3 (residential), which states nothing at all about poultry being allowed or not allowed - poultry is not mentioned in the ordinances under residential housing.

My reservations about going to court:

- There is an ordinance stating that chicken coops need to be 10 ft. from adjacent properties, and 35 feet from any dwelling (Sec 14-3 I quoted in my original mail). Ours is right next to the neighbor's property. Since we are renters, and the owners set up the landscaping, moving it wouldn't work. The township enforcement officer didn't bother to come check our property and see where the coop is - their argument simply is that keeping chickens in my zone is illegal, since it is mentioned as allowed in RR zoning (yes, a very thin argument). But if it does come to court, someone might dig deeper, come to check on the property, and find us violating the coop positioning ordinance. With the size of our lot (1/3 acre) and position of the house, I don't think it would be possible to put the coop as specified in Sec 14-3.

-since we are renters, and will probably be moving to Germany in the next year or two, spending thousands of dollars on an attorney doesn't seem to make sense. (Anyone know anything about legality of chickens in German towns/residential areas? or how I can find out?)

What I'm considering now, not having any other ideas at this point, is to move all my chickens and duck to my parents' (they have 2 1/2 acres) on May 20, leave them there for a while, and then either bring our duck back and then get several more ducks for eggs (Township didn't write to us that we need to remove the duck, since they don't know about her), or bring the duck back with my kids' favorite chickens and hope the authorities don't check again or get any other complaints (the neighbor who complained is several houses away & admitted never having heard my chickens - I went over to talk to him & see if he would withdraw his complaint with the Township, since I'd removed the rooster already; he refused to withdraw the complaint)

Any other thoughts or suggestions? Part of me wants to fight this because what they are telling me is hogwash IMO, on the other hand, I know I am violating an existing ordinance (about positioning of coop), though township isn't aware of that (or even aware of this ordinance perhaps!) What also angers me is that each of the three homes that has chickens in my area originally called the township to ask whether it would be legal to own the chickens, and got neither a yes nor a no - so they went ahead and got chickens. Now that there is a complaint, township tells me it is illegal..

What is the wisest way to proceed?

Thank you so much for your input!
Hi there,

We're from East Brunswick, just bought a coop, and already one neighbor approached us (we don't even have chickens yet...).
So I started looking online, and found your question, and was curious to know, if you're willing to share, how did you solve your problem with the ordinance?

Thank you!
Hi I live in Highland Park. I had to rehome my rooster after my neighbor complained because my town doesn’t allow them. But in regards to hens I’m allowed to have as many as I want. :D
Hi I live in Highland Park. I had to rehome my rooster after my neighbor complained because my town doesn’t allow them. But in regards to hens I’m allowed to have as many as I want. :D
:) So good to know! Thanks for letting me know- I will add that to my list of township ecodes. All of my adjoining neighbors as well as the others on my small street were ok with my roosters. They hatched here, so I asked right from the start. The planning office manager didn't see why I couldn't have them, but he grew up on a farm in PA!

Thanks again!

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