Chicken Coops Are Suddenly Everywhere. But Are You Technically Allowed to Build One?

published Sep 13, 2020
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chicken coop with brown chicken
Credit: Annika Olsson/Shutterstock.com

One of society’s greatest faults in our “Which came first: the chicken or the egg?” causality dilemma is our complete disregard for the origin story of both: The Law. While folks are sheltering in place nationwide, a rise in the Cottagecore aesthetic has unleashed the inner homesteader in many. But with chicken coops hatching all over, it’s important to consider the legal requirements and restrictions for raising hens. Before you embark on an avian adventure—and accidentally ruffle the feathers of your homeowner’s association—here are some important legal questions to consider. 

How can I build a chicken coop on my property?

Before you break ground on your coop construction and place an order for live animals, you’re going to need to do some research. Since livestock ordinances vary wildly from state to state and town to town, you’ll need to look into your local policies and bylaws. Start by searching your city’s website, or settle in for a phone call to your local government’s office. Local groups on Facebook or the NextDoor app may be able to point you in the right direction, too, if information is limited. 

It’s also critical to understand your own property’s zoning. Are you in a residential area, near commercial buildings, or outside the confines of a certain ruling? Your local municipality’s staff will be able to help you identify these answers.

If you’ve never raised chickens or owned a coop, the sort of regulations put in place to manage backyard poultry might not be obvious. You may need permits or even to petition for special permission. There may be plenty of guidelines for the type of coop you keep, as well as rules regarding the chickens themselves. All of this information will be available to you through the local government, but be warned: it may require some digging. And don’t be surprised if the regulations are surprisingly simple. The main goal of regulations generally is to prevent your neighbors from dealing with nuisances (read: roosters crowing at dawn). 

Credit: Dingding Hu

Are there legal fees associated with chicken coop permits?

Some municipalities require that prior to owning chickens, owners pay a small fee. Some cities route this fee through local humane societies in an attempt to educate owners on the keeping of chickens. But, then again, some places have no fees required at all. Check with your local government office—and be rest assured that generally, any permit fee required will be minimal. 

Depending on the size of the coop you’re building, you may need a building permit. Just as backyard sheds often require a permit, these similarly-sized bird dwellings may too!

What should I look for in terms of chicken coop size and specifications?

Because many laws regarding chicken coops focus on preventing nuisances for neighbors, your project may encounter some structural requirements. Most notably, your municipality may dictate whether or not your chickens can have free range—most often, they’ll need to be enclosed somehow. You’ll probably find regulations that coops must be kept in the backyard, be located a certain distance from the property line, not exceed a certain height limit, and be kept clean without overwhelming odors. Odors would be indicative of disease and general disarray, and could result in a neighbor’s complaint. 

Renters will need to check with their landlord and review their lease for guidance. And for those who must follow the guidelines set by a homeowner’s association, these regulations could be far more strict, with coops requiring a certain aesthetic, or an outlaw on coops altogether—even if the municipality allows for chickens. 

How many chickens can I have?

For many municipalities, you’ll find that three to four chickens total is a common requirement. One frequent regulation to note is the outlawing of roosters. They are, after all, comically loud in the early morning and aren’t necessary for procuring eggs for consumption. 

Can I profit off of my chickens?

Depending on your area, some municipalities dictate that chickens and other livestock can be kept for personal use only, meaning not for commercial use. As such, you’re able to collect eggs for your own kitchen or to share, but you can’t establish a whole racket selling eggs. 

Can I… slaughter my chicken?

Okay, first of all… WHAT? Surprisingly, regulations regarding the slaughter of livestock are prevalent in many local ordinances. Some locations require chicken owners to bring their bird to a veterinarian for euthanizing. In general, you’ll find that municipalities consider the chicken coop’s purpose for raising hens and collecting eggs, not for making your own hot chicken sandwich. Focus on the omelette.