Horses within the Philadelphia city limits may seem odd and five horses may seem even odder, but a family on Pontiac Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia has been keeping horses in their backyard for the past 10 years. At first the couple had one horse, but now they have three ponies and two horses all living in an urban backyard. While they initially sought the approval of their neighbors before they bought the animals, their neighbors are growing increasingly frustrated with the smell. After years of complaining to officials, the couple has received two violations for failing to get variances from the zoning ordinance that prohibits a backyard stable.
The couple isn’t taking these violations lying down, however. They insist that they are complying with local zoning laws because they are not operating a business out of their backyard. They believe that because the horses are their pets that they have not violated any ordinances. The couple will soon find themselves arguing this in front of a Common Pleas Court judge in an effort to save the horses, but if the judge doesn’t rule in their favor the couple may need to pay a fine or find a new home for their pets.
In 2009 neighbors started filing formal complaints with different government agencies after they claimed the smell started to affect their daily lives. One neighborhood family alleged that they were no longer able to use their own yard or invite people over because of the smell.
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections first took notice of the situation just this past February. They cited the couple for maintaining a stable on their property without a zoning permit and running a business on the property without a business-privilege license. Neighbors say the couple runs a business that rents out the horses for parties out of their home, but the couple insists the business is operated in Chester County. The department ended up dropping the matter, however, after the couple removed the horses before an inspection; the horses were not gone for long.
It is important to follow local zoning ordinances. The ordinances provide order and unity to a neighborhood and prevent neighbors from creating disturbances on their properties. If you want to do something that contradicts the zoning laws, however, it is important to work closely with a skilled real estate attorney to obtain the necessary variances and permits.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Backyard horses raise a stink with neighbors in Southwest Philadelphia,” Alia Conley, Aug. 21, 2011