The laws for rearing backyard chickens are really in favor of those who are negatively effected by other people’s animals: the neighbors. Which I can agree with on some level. If there is a noise or stench problem coming from your neighbor’s chicken coop that is legitimately bothersome, the person is not doing a very good job. Proper urban chicken keeping (and proper chicken keeping in general) should not be smelly. It can however be noisy. When a chicken lays an egg, it can be quite an ordeal. Think child labor. But it shouldn’t be any noisier than the Mexican banda music I often hear blaring in my Phoenix neighborhood. Which as long as it’s during the day, I have zero complaints about.
Roosters are another story. The cock-a-doodle-do at 5:30 a.m. isn’t always the alarm clock you wanted on a Saturday morning when you wanted to sleep until 10. I get that. But roosters can be a great addition to a small flock. According to my mom, the hens don’t fight amongst themselves as much if there’s a rooster. It keeps them calmer by adding balance. But for the benefit of my neighbors, and to keep in compliance with the city code, I do not have a rooster.
Lucky for me, I don’t have a home owner’s association. If I did, I probably wouldn’t be allowed to have chickens at all. Most HOAs don’t allow them because they are considered a neighborhood nuisance. The city also has a tricky set of laws. It allows you to keep up to 20 chickens, but no less than 80 feet from a residence. It’s nearly impossible for my chickens to be eighty feet from my neighbors. If any one of them decided to call the cops, I’d probably be toast. Thankfully, after almost one year of chicken-keeping, this has been a non-issue. I could try to get written permission from them, just to be on the safe side, but I don’t want them to feel like I’m intruding on their personal choices or privacy. I talked to them all before hand, and if they ever changed their minds, I would be willing to work with them on that. So far they’ve all been really cool about it, and I’m sure giving them a dozen eggs once a month doesn’t hurt either. Just talking to your neighbors goes a long way. Most problems arise from lack of communication and respect. If there’s an issue, I would like to think they would come to me directly.
One time my chicken Betty (now deceased R.I.P.) flew into my neighbor’s yard while I was at school. Which is scary because he has big dogs that would’ve loved to eat her. He took Betty into his house and kept her there all day until I came home so she wouldn’t die. I think she pooped all over his house. In fact I’m sure of it. They poop constantly, and it’s really pretty gross. But he didn’t say anything about the clean-up. He was happy to ensure her safety over the course of the afternoon. But I realize not all neighbors are of this caliber. He really went above and beyond normal neighborly protocol.
I really feel blessed that my neighbors are all people I can call friends. But every city, house and living situation is different. There are complex city codes, neighborhood disputes, noise and smell issues to navigate. There are also neighbors out there that are just plain mean, grumpy and will call the cops on you for nothing. It’s upsetting that for people like that, the laws are essentially on their side. If nothing else, just try to be respectful and talk to the people who live close to you, especially the grumpy ones. You might be able to win them over with a dozen eggs and a handshake. Even if you can’t, you’ll be glad you tried. Because they can make your life hell, and make urban chicken-keeping impossible.