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HOA Issues and Raising Backyard Chickens 

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Posted by Joseph Stengel on November 01, 2016

If you live in a community with a Homeowners Association (HOA), to avoid the need for a Colorado HOA attorney or HOA attorney, don't run  "Afoul" of  its "Chicken Laws". If you do, this could become a HOA issue for you.

It is becoming more and more popular for urban and suburban folks to keep chickens at home. Aside from producing eggs, they will accomplish some bug control, and generate a great fertilizer for your lawn or garden, among other things. The folks who keep chickens swear that "farm-fresh" eggs are superior, but they also talk about something fun for their kids to be involved in, and some folks are hobbyists who want to breed unusual, even exotic breeds of chickens or poultry. They can be pets who happen to provide fresh eggs, or poultry raised for consumption, or decorative additions to the back yard.

There are dozens of websites, blogs, and articles across the Internet that discuss keeping and how to raise chickens in urban or suburban settings. However, there is a one important consideration that many folks don't give any attention. Specifically, one of the last things people consider is how local laws and HOA rules intersect with raising poultry at home. And it may surprise you to find out just how many issues can come up! Homeowner association problems arise when a person does not know their HOA rights with regard to raising chickens. 

To begin with, let's take a quick look at what raising backyard chickens involves in terms of supplies and equipment. Some different things will be needed, depending on whether you want to hatch eggs and raise chicks, buy very young chicks, or acquire "pullets" (chickens nearing maturity, but not yet laying eggs,) or even mature, laying hens. For our purposes, we will deal with maintaining adult chickens, as there are many places--from your local feed store to Google--where information on raising chicks, etc., can be found.

To maintain adult chickens, you will need:

  • chickens
  • a hen house/chicken coop
  • a chicken run
  • food and water arraignments
  • composting or disposal of chicken waste
  • health-care supplies or the location of an avian veterinarian

That list may is not exhaustive, but it is fairly complete regarding the basics. What is notable is that EACH of these may raise HOA issues with local laws and HOA regulations. Let's have a look at each one.

Chickens

Chicken 2.jpgMost municipalities have some regulations regarding keeping chickens at home. A Colorado HOA attorney will be up-to-spped on these regulations. The most common regulation: Keeping chickens is not permitted! However, if chickens are allowed, then generally there are restrictions on how many  chickens someone can have at a time.

Next, if  chickens are permitted then some municipalities may require a permit. Generally only a few chickens are allowed even with the most basic permit. Unfortunately, even if municipal ordinances allow chickens, some folks don't think to also check their Home Owners' Association (HOA) rules or By-Laws to avoid problems with HOA! This is usually where people run "a-fowl" and incur the wrath of their HOA.  It is not unusual for the By-Laws or HOA rules to be much more restrictive when raising chickens is concerned.  While towns and municipalities are modifying local laws and regulations allowing chickens, HOA's are just now coming to grips with this newest "Urban Trend."  

Remember HOA rules and By-Laws were often written long ago by developers who built the local neighborhoods--when times or trends were much different than today--the focus then being upon urban rather that rural.  As a result the HOA rules and By-Laws that were written by a Colorado homeowners association attorney often incorporated broad and/or general prohibitive language. For example, if the HOA just prohibits "live stock" on the properties, can an argument be made that chickens are not livestock? The word, "livestock," typically refers to domesticated animals like cows, horses, sheep, or goats. Chickens are poultry, but are they livestock?

However, the more important question is whether your HOA will take a dim view of keeping chickens at home.  It is certainly worth taking a close look at your HOA documents before getting chickens and building the hen house. Keep in mind HOA rules and By-Laws generally overrule municipal ordinances or regulations when it comes to keeping chickens. Once more thing: chickens can be noisy, and with more chickens comes more noise! Don't think that you can hide your chickens from your neighbors because they won't go unnoticed for very long!

Hen House or Chicken Coop

HOA Issues and raising chickens.jpgUrban-chicken-coop.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chickens will require a structure that protects them from harsh weather as well as predators, like hawks, coyotes, or other animals. Typically, chickens are "locked in" to such a structure at night, to protect them.. The size of your hen house will be determined by how many birds you intend to keep. A general rule of thumb: one chicken requires around four square feet of space. Obviously, the more chickens you have, the larger the structure you will need. Keep in mind that there may a municipal ordinance that regulates the size of any outbuilding or unattached structure.

There are several considerations involved in building a hen house, such as making sure that it is easy to access, for cleaning and egg gathering, as well as making it sturdy and secure against predators (including, sometimes, the neighbors' dog or cat).

Your hen house can be another area where HOA rules can impact your endeavor. For example, many HOAs regulate where on the property such a structure can be placed, what colors it can be painted, as well as how large it can be. When the regulations were written, the authors may have had in mind structures like tool sheds, but the same rules may (or may not!) apply to a chicken coop or hen house. Be sure to look at your HOA regulations before you get too far down the path of making plans and buying materials, much less beginning construction. If you find the regulations are too strict, there may be loop-holes you can exploit. For example, the restrictions may apply to "fixed, permanent structures," which some circumvent by building a "movable" hen house. Here again, while you MAY circumvent the actual written rules, you should first consider how difficult or agreeable your HOA will be to housing chickens in your back yard from the beginning.

Once you have determined how large your hen house should be, there are many resources that will give you some ideas on what the actual construction should consist of, what materials are best suited for the job. Take all of these things into consideration after you have reviewed your HOA rules and By-Laws.

Chicken Run

HOA Issues and Corealestateattorneys.com.jpegYour chickens won't be in the coop all the time. They will want to get out and scratch in the dirt and do other "chicken things."  The space the birds use for this exercise is your chicken run.

Constructing the chicken run will depend a lot on your environment. Some folks create a large fenced area (including a wire-fence top, if there are air-born predators in the area, such as hawks and owls.) Other folks simply have a tall fence around their yard, and give the birds free run of their yard. This last can be a little tricky. Depending on the KIND of chickens you choose, you have to give serious consideration about the type of enclosure you choose.  Remember---chickens can fly!

As a general rule, few issues with local laws and HOAs will interfere with your chicken run. Perhaps the most significant factor will be neighborhood dogs and cats that will see your chickens as legitimate prey. Many dogs find a fence to be only a minor inconvenience, and most house cats won't be constrained by a fence at all.

The issue here is simply this: You are unlikely to be happy with losing chickens to predators--or to neighborhood domestic pets. The first time your neighbor is asked to pony up for the cost of replacing a few hens or a vet bill, they might start searching the HOA rules and By-Laws for a reason that your chickens have to go. You may prevail in that argument, but how much time do you want to invest in having that argument at all? If you have a question, you can call me to consult

The best solution? Build your chicken run not only to keep out natural predators, but to protect your chickens from neighborhood pets, Including, sometimes, even your own dogs and cats.

Food and Water/and Chicken Waste

Food and water issues for your chickens are unlikely to be directly addressed by local law or your HOA regulations,. These issues are likely to fall under "nuisance" laws or "code violations."  Issues like standing water which is not kept fresh can be a breeding ground for mosquitoes, or scattering feed which is not consumed by the chickens will attract rodents, and chicken waste can create an issue when your neighbor complains about unpleasant smells... These issues when allowed to go unaddresssed can become violations of either local laws or HOA regulations.

To be fair, the smell factor will depend on a several things. These things are, how many chickens do you have, how did you design your chicken coop/chicken run, and what is your cleaning schedule. Most important might be the number of chickens you keep. But chickens are live animals, and frankly, all live things create smells. On a farm, it is common to place the chicken house some small distance from the family home, and perhaps even taking into consideration the prevailing winds, and putting the chicken house down-wind. In a suburb, it is likely that down-wind to your home is directly UP-wind to someone else. And even if the regulations and local laws don't address this, you may not want the problems with your neighbors that creating a bad smell that blows to their home brings. It's something to consider.

As to the waste, chickens create a LOT of waste, considering the size of each animal. One solution for neighbor relations might be sharing that waste with your any neighbors. Chicken waste is high in nitrogen--which is good for plants! But the best solution might be either hauling off the waste periodically, or keeping few enough birds that it doesn't "mount up" too fast.

As an aside, there are other areas that may fall under "nuisance laws" as well, such as noise. Hens generally don't create a lot of early-morning noise, but as the day warms up, they will become more active and more noisy. Roosters, on the other hand, really do greet the sun with crowing every morning. And they can CROW and CROW and CROW! In a suburban setting, your neighbors will hear them. Each and every morning. Remember, being a quiet neighbor will foster good neighbor relations.

Healthcare

HOA Issues and Chickens, corealestateattorneys.com.jpgHealthcare issues are the one area where local regulations are unlikely to be a direct issue. However, there is a trend in favor of "animal rights" that has been gaining momentum for some time, and it's important to be aware of what that may mean for you. 

Essentially, what it comes down to is terms that can be fairly fluid or open to interpretation. What exactly constitutes "neglect" or even "cruelty" to animals? That could be a subject of considerable debate, in the real world of animal husbandry, but most municipalities have laws and regulations regarding neglect and cruelty to animals. At what point you run "a-foul" of them (no pun intended) can be a case-by-case question, and sometimes the answer a court comes to on that will surprise you.

The best practice is, obviously, to have any sick chicken treated, or undertake treatment yourself if you are equipped and knowledgeable enough to do it. Sometimes that means euthanizing a chicken. The days of "waiting it out" to see if the chicken recovers are probably gone, and honestly, if the chicken appears to be in distress, it's best to make a decision about treatment or euthanasia sooner rather than later.

Which brings up one last issue that should be addressed. ARE you considering raising chickens for meat?

Some folks will never want to terminate a chicken, especially if they have kept it around for four or five years, and maybe named it, and collected eggs from it during the laying-period of its life. But after many years, sometimes you end up with a chicken that stops producing any eggs.  What will you do with that chicken? Keep it "in retirement" for the rest of its life? Or, are your chickens food, and destined for the table from the time you start raising them?

Culling chickens from time to time may become an integral part of your overall management program. And that may create other issues you may want to consider. To begin with, many townships have regulations about humane slaughter of food animals. You should look in to these local laws. But beyond that, your neighbors may feel very strongly about how, or why, you choose to cull your flock. Again, this may never be a problem. Or... it might be. It's something to take into consideration at the beginning of the project, rather than after you have a neighbor who is suddenly dead-set against your chicken management practices. Backyard chickens and a homeowner association is not mutually exclusive if you take the time to make them compatible from the start. If not, you may be looking for a HOA attorney or HOA lawyer to help turn your dream of raising chickens into a reality.

Here's a short article by the CSU Extension Service on raising backyard chickens.  You may also want to check out this article from HGTV regarding this topic. 

Topics: Homeowner's Association (HOA), Real Estate Management and Ownership

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