Legalities of raising chickens in Washington State

Raising chickens may, or may not, be a legal issue

The legalities of raising chickens is really location specific.  In fact, in some legalities of raising chickensparts of Washington, especially east of the mountains,  simply talking about “chicken law” probably makes some people laugh as raising chickens is simply what the family has always done and nobody has ever had to think about the legality of it. On the other hand, people living in cities need to be particularly aware of what your cities rules are.

But also, just because your city allows the keeping of a flock of chickens doesn’t mean your homeowners association rules provide for it. It’s very possible that the homes in the association are very close together, have limited backyard space, or the association simply doesn’t want the “image” of its residents raising chickens. But there are typically ways to change the association rules and perhaps the other members simply need some education about chickens to help them agree to allow for a small number.

Educate yourself first about chicken behavior

There are a few things to think about before buying your chicks or hens.
First, educate yourself. Do you really know what chickens are like? Do you realize they cackle for what may seem like no reason? And that they cackle each time of the girls lays an egg… so if you have multiple hens laying you may hear the loud noise of celebration multiple times a day. Do you realize that an unkempt coop smells? They attract flies? And that roosters don’t just crow when sun rises… they crow all day long. They crow to protect their flock, to celebrate with hens when an egg is laid. They make noises to tell the hens he’s found a good source of food. And often he will crow for no apparent reason. These are the main reasons cities have laws regulating backyard flocks. Most people are good chicken owners, but some are not.

Each city or county is different

You will want to find out if your city or county has rules about keeping chickens. In Seattle right now it looks like you can have 8 fowl. (See Seattle municipal code 23.42.052). You may have more if you qualify as a urban farm. Roosters are not permitted and the coop must be at least 10 feet away from where the neighbors live (where thy dwell, not where they have a shed or outbuilding). In Bellevue you may have 6 fowl and more if you meet other requirements, and the coop must be 15 feet from the neighbor’s property line. (Bel. Muni code 20.20.130).  It appears that Lynnwood allows you to have roosters and has few other rules on chickens. I didn’t find a specific statute in Snohomish County which probably leaves it up to the cities to make their rules.

Rules about the coop itself

There are often rules about how large a coop can be and where it must be places. There are sometimes maximum heights but also there are sometimes minimum square footage rules. Mukilteo requires a fence around the coop. The coop can be no more than 120 square feet, no higher than 12 feet and a minimum of 2 square feet per bird. And the hens must be able to enter the coop freely during the day.  Everett doesn’t allow poultry in mobile home parks (Everett muni 17.12.020).  Seattle doesn’t allow chicken coops to be in the front yard. SMC 23.42.051.

In some areas you need to get a license or permit to have chickens. In Mukilteo you need a chicken coop license and must pay a one time fee of $40. You cannot have roosters, and can have no more than 4 chickens but must have at least 2 as they are social animals.  Permits may be required if the coop is a certain size.  For example a permits is required for a coop over 200 sq feet in Issaquah (IMC 17.07.110(b)(2)).  Seattle has a great website at the Department of Planning to determine if a permit is needed or not.

Be a good neighbor

Think about things from your neighbors perceptive and always go talk to them before you get your flock. A upset neighbor can make things very difficult if they are calling law enforcement with nuisance complaints about your chickens.  Seattle has an online nuisance website with more information.

Tell them upfront that if they have a complaint or concern once you have the flock to talk to you first before calling law enforcement or animal control. And when you have excess eggs – and you will – freely give some to your neighbors so they feel a connection to your birds also.


 

Other good references for chicken law issues:

→ Seattle Tilth

→ Urban Agriculture and Law in Seattle

Nationwide chicken law forum on Backyard Chicken


 

Disclaimer: Although I am a lawyer I hope that what I am saying here comes through – that each area is different and you need to check for yourself to find out what the rules of your area are.  I am not giving legal advice here but I am showing you some of the things you must consider before owning chickens.

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