One year ago, Janet Rojas bought six day-old baby chickens to keep as pets. At the time, Ms. Rojas was a member of her neighborhood homeowners association board at Hands Creek Farm in East Hampton.
A visit to her sister in California, who was raising chickens, sparked Ms. Rojas’s interest. As she brought up her idea with local friends, she learned of others in East Hampton Town and Village who were also raising chickens.
In August, a neighbor noticed the chickens in Ms. Rojas’s backyard and inquired to see if they were allowed by the community’s covenants and restrictions. To Ms. Rojas’s surprise, the covenants were clear — no poultry of any kind shall be raised within the community.
“When they were written 30 years ago, chickens were not considered pets,” Ms. Rojas said last week. “It never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be allowed here.”
“Since the first meeting with the board last September, I have maintained that my chickens are pets. Most mornings I spend about 15 minutes between cleaning the coop and checking that they have feed and water. Every couple of weeks I rake out the run to remove feathers, poop, leaves and the remainder of any snacks I have given them [fruit and vegetable rinds, corn cobs, etc.]. All of this goes into the compost pile. I am going to have an amazing garden next year,” said Ms. Rojas.
According to her blog hcchickens.tumblr.com, Ms. Rojas specifically designed and built her backyard chicken coop to resemble her own house. The community covenants prohibit any kind of coop for the housing of chickens.
In January, Ms. Rojas resigned from the community’s board of directors over the conflict.
She began reaching out to neighboring homeowners for their support to change the community’s 30-year-old covenants and restrictions.
Seventy-five percent of property owners at Hands Creek Farm have to agree to make an amendment to the covenant document in order for it to pass. According to Ms. Rojas, fewer than 25 percent of owners responded to her plea, and not all of them agreed with her.
Numerous e-mails were exchanged between Ms. Rojas, members of the homeowners board, and the board’s attorney. Finally, Ms. Rojas was given a May 1 deadline to decide whether to remove the chickens from her property or face a lawsuit with the homeowners’ association.
“I agreed to remove them because they threatened to take me to court,” she said.
Repeated calls to members of the homeowner’s board and the board’s attorney were not returned by press time.
By June 30, the chickens will be moved to a friend’s property, Ms. Rojas said. “We’re basically going to have joint custody.”