2005-06-09 / Front Page

Chickens at the heart of neighborhood dispute

By Sophia Fischer sfischer@theacorn.com

It’s a classic neighbor versus neighbor dispute—but this one involves a dozen roosters and hens in an older section of Thousand Oaks.

Soundproof chicken coop in Thousand OaksSoundproof chicken coop in Thousand OaksA couple that lives in the Conejo Oaks area of the city owns six hens and six roosters, miniature white silky bantams that are about half of the size of full-grown chickens.

The couple (who prefers not to be identified) has owned the birds since 1999, prior to purchasing their current home. They’re vegans and don’t eat the animals or their eggs–they keep them as pets. They bought their home six years ago based on zoning laws that allow as many as 25 chickens and horses, goats and pigs, they said.

On the other side of the issue are neighbors who said they can no longer tolerate the noise. The neighbors filed a complaint with animal control, which issued a citation to the couple. The Thousand Oaks city attorney’s office is now investigating the complaint. If it’s found to be valid, it will be referred to the to the courts for prosecution.

“The million-dollar question when you have noise issues is, ‘What is a public nuisance? What is unreasonable for neighbors to have to deal with?’” said Deputy City Attorney Patrick Hehir. “To have to deal with a barking dog issue at 2 in the afternoon—is that unreasonable? But at 2 a.m., should neighbors have to deal with that?” In this case, neighbors don’t feel they should have to deal with animal noise at any time. Two of the neighbors who filed the complaint are older people who live on either side of the home with the chickens.

Doug Dorward, 65, said he can hear the chickens during the day— especially during the summer months when he opens his windows. He’s called the police three times to complain.

The couple has also called authorities several times to complain about trash being thrown on their lawn, which they believe was the rubbish of angry neighbors.

“You would not believe the noise,” said Dorward. He once measured the decibel level at about 70, he said. Dorward is currently undergoing radiation treatment for throat cancer and often rests during the day.

Marilyn Simondet, 76, said she’s gotten to the point where she tunes the birds out, but her son, Andy, who lives in a cottage behind her home––not far from the chicken coop in the yard next door –– cannot.

“I have a high tolerance for noise,” said Simondet. She’s raised seven children, she said.

“But as I get older, and these chickens and roosters get louder, I will get irritable.” This isn’t the first time that residents filed a complaint. Four years ago, a similar complaint with the city attorney went to a jury trial.

The owners of the chickens were forced to mitigate the noise.

At that time, the couple built an eight-inch-thick sound-walled chicken coop and pen. It looks like Fort Knox, they said. And they lock the chickens inside at night.

The birds are allowed outside during the day into a sound-walled pen, the couple said, because the chickens need a few hours of sunshine and air. “While in the pen, their sounds are barely audible,” the couple said. “We are sad that they can never come out of the pen into our large grassy backyard.” The couple became chicken owners when their son’s fifth-grade teacher offered students fertile eggs from a small school farm to take home.

He begged his parents to allow him to bring some home to hatch.

The couple obtained an incubator, and as the hatching began, they found themselves falling in love with their new pets and how the chicks formed pairs and a hierarchy. “They respect each other’s territory and needs. Humans can learn a lot from chickens,” the couple said. “They are also quite intelligent, tame and funny. They bring us a lot of joy.” The neighbors admit that the soundproofing helped, but said the chickens aren’t kept inside as much as the couple claims. Dorward said that several years ago, a rooster flew over the fence and walked through the back door of his home.

The couple denies this allegation.

Dorward is concerned, he said, about property values.

“If I go to sell my home, I have to list this as a disclosure,” Dorward said. “I would like to see these chickens gone. I’m frustrated because the city should have helped more.” Such cases aren’t uncommon, according to Sgt. Denise Rosen of the Agoura Animal Shelter, which handled the complaint. Claims of noisy roosters, peacocks and cockatoos have occurred in Topanga, Malibu and other areas, she said.

“We have a hearing to try to resolve the matter without going to court,” Rosen said.

But the couple said there isn’t much more they can do to address their neighbors’ concerns.

“We have invested a significant amount of time and money to accommodate these neighbors,” the couple said. “There is nothing else we can do, short of giving our chickens away or keeping them inside 24/7.” As part of the investigation, Hehir will speak to everyone involved, consider their testimony and evaluate whether or not they’re believable. There have been other accusations, too, having nothing to do with the noise complaint. Hehir won’t address those, he said.

“With neighbor disputes, there are always going to be other issues.

That’s just the way it is,” Hehir said.

“My job is to see if we can find an effective solution.”

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