Chickens and Code Enforcement
The Land Use Code changed last year to increase the number of chickens allowed to be kept on a residential lot from three to eight. Along with this increase in the number of birds, provisions were added prohibiting the keeping of roosters and requiring that coops be located at least ten feet away from dwelling units on adjacent lots. The new code provisions, included as part of comprehensive changes designed to encourage urban agriculture, became effective on September 23, 2010 (www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/UrbanAgriculture/Overview/).
With the advent of warmer weather, more Seattle residents are trying out chicken keeping and the number of chicken-related complaints is rising. This has resulted in some new challenges for DPD code enforcement staff. DPD regulates provisions in the Land Use Code relating to chickens—that is, number of chickens, location of coops, and the presence of roosters. But, complaints about crowing roosters are not as straightforward as they seem. It is not always obvious what is the gender of the fowl that we observe—in fact, there are some breeds of chicken that outwardly appear to be roosters, crowing and all, but lay eggs and are in fact hens. If the only enforcement issue is animal noise such as crowing, the DPD inspector has no basis to undertake enforcement action—the appropriate agency to respond to complaints about animal noise is the City’s Animal Control unit. In addition, if a rooster has been in residence since before the enactment of the new code provisions—if the owner can prove it, which can be challenging—DPD will not require him to be removed.
As for the location of coops, in addition to being ten feet away from residences, they are subject to other rules about structures in yards. In most cases, such structures are not permitted in front yards, for example. In tight urban spaces, it can be challenging for an owner to find a space for the coop and chicken run that is big enough for the chickens’ needs and sturdy enough to protect them from predators but still meets code requirements.
Chicken odors and other maintenance issues also have been the subject of complaints, but these also are not handled by DPD. Odors created by chicken manure should be reported to Animal Control, as should other issues of sanitation or inadequate maintenance of chicken areas which may affect the wellbeing of the animals. Conditions creating a public health issue such as the presence of rats should be reported to Seattle – King County Public Health.
If your neighbor has more than eight chickens, has a rooster, or has built a chicken coop too close to your house, you may file a complaint with DPD by calling (206) 615-0808 or placing a complaint on line at http://web1.seattle.gov/dpd/complaintform/. For complaints about animal noise or inadequate animal maintenance, contact Animal Control at www.seattle.gov/animalshelter/contact.htm. Information about rats and rat control is available from Public Health at www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/ehs/rats.aspx.