Guest Post – Defending Your Flock from the HOA

With chickens becoming more and more popular some people are running into problems with their HOA bylaws. Most of the time the problems stem from lack of knowledge about chickens that is spread through misinformation. Chickens are not any noisier, stinkier, or more likely to spread disease than the family dog. I personally don’t live in HOA so today’s post is from Shannon who recently had to defend her hens from her HOA. She has some great advice that might help you if you are having a problem with your HOA.

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Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case (that’s a different post), I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research
This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses.
Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes.
If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me – I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact.

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors
I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?
Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard chicken has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?
On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!

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