Column, 646 words

The Unbearable Annoyance of Neighborhood Tattling

We all need to cut our neighbors some slack, even if they're urban chicken farmers.

Jill Richardson

I met my friend Rachel because we were both in the same situation: We each had neighbors who inexplicably hated our chickens. Rachel and I each had small flocks of hens, no roosters, and sprawling, fertile, organic vegetable gardens in our yards. And we live in urban San Diego.

There certainly are reasons you might complain about chickens living next door in the city. If they’re noisy, smelly, or unhygienic, that’s a problem. If their owners let them escape into your yard, that’s a problem.

And I’m guessing that you might not like glancing out your window to behold your neighbor killing chickens in the back yard, either.

urban chickens

kusine/Flickr

But neither of us ate our chickens, and we both kept them clean. In my case, the neighbor in question had four yappy chihuahuas. Both Rachel’s neighborhood and mine are home to extremely noisy flocks of wild parrots. She’s in the flight path of the airport, and I lived across from a fire station. Compared to all that, the noise a hen makes is nothing.

Looking back, she thinks her neighbor complained to the city simply because he didn’t like her roommate and wanted to get revenge. But sometimes, neighbors complain for no good reason.

My neighbors liked my chickens — perhaps because I gave them free eggs — but their landlord, an extremely nasty woman, had a problem with them. I consulted all of my neighbors before and after getting my hens to ask if they had any concerns.

Later, the neighbors’ landlord discovered the chickens and got mad. I asked what, exactly, was bothering her to see if I could fix it, but she had no answer. She also tossed rat poison into our yard, where our chickens or dog could have eaten it and died if I hadn’t removed the stuff. And the cops said that her attempt to kill my birds wasn’t a crime.

These sorts of neighborhood squabbles are normal, but I still don’t understand why people complain when they don’t have a specific, legitimate concern like noise, smell, or safety.

I just visited Rachel the other day. She’s now got two goats and a beehive to go with her chicken flock and gorgeous, well-maintained garden. It’s all legal. She moved a few blocks away from the first complaining neighbor. She has a good relationship with her new next-door neighbors who like her garden and critters.

Yet, someone just complained to the city.

The problem? She has goats and chickens. The city sent in a code compliance officer to investigate. Rachel demonstrated that her animals were in full compliance with city code. The complaint did nothing but waste city resources.

She still doesn’t know who complained — or why.

This attitude reminds me of young children who are extremely concerned with rules and who tattle on anyone breaking them even if it’s not affecting anyone. “Jimmy used markers, but the teacher said to use crayons.” So? Is that hurting you?

When we live near one another in cities and suburbs, we’ll inevitably make different decisions in our homes and yards. We’ll inevitably and occasionally annoy one another.

Sometimes, we all need to cut our neighbors some slack. Those Christmas decorations may look stupid on their front door in July, but they aren’t hurting me. I’ll deal with it.

Sometimes, a neighbor’s offenses cause a real problem, like when my neighbor smoked cigarettes outside my open window. When that occurs, the best approach is to begin by starting a dialogue. You might be able to find a quick, easy resolution. I did — she agreed to stand farther away when she smoked. Getting law enforcement involved should be a last resort.

As adults, we need to take the same advice we give tattling children: Try to work it out before roping in the authorities, and pick your battles wisely.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org

  • Rachel

    Rachel here: wish I could get my neighbors to read this…maybe I’ll post it on my fence ;)

  • Maureen

    Alektorophobia should not be the basis of law.

    • talferris

      The basis of most laws concerning livestock and fowl inside corporate municipal limits are the vermin and pests that come with the keeping
      of those animals. Chickens as anyone on a farm can attest to, atypically draw rodents and other vermin. Litter produces a stench and the bacteria associated with it consequently attracts insects on a scale greater than what is normally encountered in those areas devoid of chicken coups, goat pens, or parrot aviaries as well as microbial growth not suitable to be close to human habitation (and I shoveled and spread enough chicken litter as a boy to boost the nitrogen content in the fields that I can personally attest to the smell
      and the flies).

      It certainly isn’t my place to condemn or condone the writer. As long as she is in compliance with the law, then she can exercise her rights under the law. But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. One would typically associate the keeping of goats and chickens, and other non-specified but just as relevant animals such as cows or horses, in environs of a more rural nature. Would that mean losing a certain urban convenience? It would, but it would also entail code enforcement not knocking on the door every other
      day. Regardless of how frivolous the complaint, or compliant the alleged offender, they have to investigate.

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