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PHOTO: Scott Woods-Fehr
The urban farming movement is sweeping its way across America, and at the helm, chicken coops are springing up in the most unlikely places. Many cities have seen the addition of chicken coops to residential backyards as ordinances are overturned or modified to accommodate the modern chicken keeper. Unfortunately for some, however, homeowner association (HOA) restrictions might still prohibit the keeping of chickens, even if they are allowed in the greater city. So, what’s a budding urban farmer to do?
Because every HOA is different, your options and approach will be individual to your town, your personality and your board. Generally speaking, however, there are a few prudent and respectful ways to go about it.
1. Know The Rules
Before broaching the subject of keeping chickens at your next HOA meeting, get your hands on the rules and regulations of your individual HOA. What does it say about pets? About livestock? Is there any verbiage specific to chickens or poultry? If the language is vague (“livestock” or “farm animals”), the argument could easily be made for keeping chickens as pets. In fact, by and large, the vast majority of backyard chicken keepers keep a very small number of hens, often a family flock with names.
2. Get Others On Board
A good next step is to get a feel for the neighborhood and your neighbors and peers how they feel about the idea of keeping chickens. Is there apprehension about the idea? Why? You may find that some neighbors are in full support; others may be wary of loud roosters and stinky coops, for example. Getting a sense of the neighborhood will give you a good idea of the myths you may need to bust and who—if anyone— is in support or opposition to the idea.
On the other hand, if the response is overwhelmingly positive, consider starting a petition to bring with you when you address the issue. You may even ask those that are in support to join the cause and speak up at the next meeting for the inclusion of backyard chickens.
3. Do Your Homework
Whether the language relates specifically to chicken coops or other pet housing structures, or just generally addresses outbuildings, know the rules and restrictions on building outdoor structures as it pertains to your individual HOA. If the rules address certain building codes—height, width, or distance from fencing or a neighboring building, for example—you will want to be prepared with appropriate coop plans.
Next, seek out other HOAs in your region that may already allow homeowners to keep chickens. What do their rules entail and what hurdles have they overcome? Are there any representatives that spearheaded the movement that may be willing to come to the meeting with you and address specific concerns? Much could be learned from others who have already gone through the process.
4. Learn About Chickens
Perhaps you’ve already done your reading and have exhaustively researched everything from coop plans to combs and wattles. If so, great! If not, it will be important to go to the meeting prepared with a pitch about the realities of keeping chickens. You’ll likely need to bust a few common myths (for instance, that you don’t need to keep a rooster for hens to lay eggs) and address relevant concerns about noise and odor. Go armed with cold, hard facts about chickens, such as their behavior and vocalizations, as well as the chores/tasks involved in keeping chickens, addressing their potential odor and the aesthetics of a chicken coop, for example.
5. Come Prepared
When you finally take the plunge to approach your HOA board about keeping chickens, bring all of the relevant materials to make your case. In large part, the information you bring with you will be a compilation of everything you’ve learned and acquired by following the four tips above. Of course, bring a personal copy of everything you compile to reference as you make your presentation. Better still, prepare a binder or folder with a copy of everything to give to each board member to look over in his or her time following the meeting. They will respect that you put the time and effort into your presentation, and are more likely to read what you have collected for them than to go about doing the research on their own at a later date.
Some of the materials you may want to bring include:
- a copy of your city’s rules in regards to keeping chickens, plus any necessary permit
- your HOA rules/regulations on keeping livestock or pets as it pertains to chickens
- your HOA rules/regulations as they pertain to building structures
- top-10 facts or myths about chickens
- a neighborhood petition, if possible
- a representative from a neighboring HOA with experience keeping chickens within their own community (and perhaps a copy of their own HOA rules/regulations regarding chickens)
- a proposed plan of a reasonable number of chickens, whether they will remain restricted to a run or other enclosure, and breeds suitable to your region
- coop plans (with photos!) of housing that adheres to your HOA’s rules about outbuildings
- photos of beautiful and HOA-compliant coops; family flocks; fresh eggs compared to supermarket eggs, etc.