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Ask the County Law Librarian – Chickens in the city



Q. About six months ago, my neighbors bought four chickens and built a coop in their backyard. I didn’t really have a problem with it at first, but lately I’ve been finding the hens in my backyard and they leave a big mess. Also, I’m about to put my house on the market and I’m sure that this situation will not look good to many potential buyers. Is there anything I can do to get rid of the chickens? Or to at least force my neighbor to keep them locked in their coop? I’ve tried asking a few times, but without success.

– Dan

A. Despite the quaint rural vibe it connotes (not to mention the appeal of daily fresh eggs), keeping chickens in your backyard can leave the neighbors less than thrilled with your new hobby. Urban chicken-keeping is a growing trend and has been causing discord between adjoin homeowners & renters for several years. Across the country, new county and city ordinances have been enacted in an attempt at regulation, but this means that your options may be limited if your neighbor is in compliance with your city or county codes.

You’ll first need to investigate whether your neighbor’s chicken-keeping activities fall within the law, but note that there may not be an ordinance that governs this practice within your city or county yet. You can read your city and county codes in print at your nearest public law library, or find them online by using a search engine such as Google. To find the public law library nearest you, visit http://www.publiclawlibrary.org/find.html

Let’s look at Sacramento as an example: we can check the Sacramento County Code at http://qcode.us/codes/sacramentocounty/  To search the code, we have a couple options: we can either run a keyword search using words like ‘poultry’ ‘hen’, and ‘chicken,’ or browse the Code titles for relevant headings and subheadings. Based on a quick search, it looks like the Sacramento County Code does not expressly limit or prohibit keeping chickens in urban areas, so we’ll move on to the Sacramento City Code.

Sacramento City Code Section 9.44.860 states that “it is unlawful to keep, possess, or maintain chickens on any parcel of property located in the city, except in accordance with the following restrictions”, and the following sections of Article XI go on to state requirements such as the maximum number of chickens owned (3); the sex (must be hens); the location of the enclosure (backyard, not front yard, and 20 feet or more from the any adjoining residences); and the amount of noise produced (kept at a minimum). In addition, a permit is required to keep hens on a residential property within the city. These ordinances can be found in Article XI, Chapter 9.44, Title 9 of the Sacramento City Code.

If you’ve found that your neighbor is violating one or more ordinances in the conduct of his or her chicken-keeping, one option would be to contact local code enforcement. You could also discuss the issue with your neighbor first, mentioning that you may be forced to call code enforcement if the chickens keep wandering into your yard. This option may preserve the relationship and provide the neighbor with some genuine incentive to keep the hens from their wanderings.

If there is currently no ordinance that addresses this issue within your city, you can try contacting the City Council to raise awareness. Keeping chickens and other farm animals in urban areas raises many issues, including the health and peace of those living nearby, and sensible regulations can provide a solution for everyone involved.
 

Do you have a question for the County Law Librarian? Just email sacpress@saclaw.org. If your question is selected your answer will appear in next Thursday’s column. Even if your question isn’t selected, though, I will still respond within two weeks.

Coral Henning, Director
@coralh & @saclawlibrarian
www.saclaw.org
 

 
  • Ryan Schauland (f.k.a. ryuns)

    Very elegant answer Coral. They should definitely discuss with their neighbors first. If it’s in the city, they definitely need a permit and they’ll need to ditch one of their chickens. Let them know about your concerns (selling your house gives even more legitimacy to your concern, so you don’t need to worry about sounding overbearing, etc). If the chickens won’t stay in the yard, they need to build a run and only let them out when supervised. If in the county (where the chickens are not allowed), it would seem most neighborly to let them know. The chickens would not be allowed, but if they’re properly taken care of, contacting code enforcement would require them to get rid of their chickens quickly, and that strikes me as unnecessary.