Visit the Newport Land and Law office on any given day and you’re likely to find a dog or two holding court underneath the desks. While we’re very happy with our tail-wagging four-legged friends, we do understand that not everyone is satisfied with such typical domestic pets.
If you’ve always fancied the idea of keeping chickens, or perhaps even pigs, goats or sheep, you might have noticed that more and more people seem to be welcoming livestock into their homes and gardens. However, before you start measuring up your lawn for a pen, you’ll need to make sure you’re free and clear on the legal front, and this might not be as straight-forward as you think.
Hang on, what are you talking about?
The thing is, folks, that when you buy a house you’re not necessarily free to do whatever you like in it. The deeds to your property will likely set out a range of restrictions for what you can and can’t do within the boundaries. This is just as true of freehold deeds as it is of leasehold deeds (though we’re afraid the latter do have a reputation for being more authoritarian for a reason).
In addition to the deeds, your property might also be subject to what’s known as a restrictive covenant. Though this sounds like something only to be found in dusty old tomes, restrictive covenants are actually just as likely to be in place for new housing developments as they are for historic properties.
Now we’ve got the basics out of the way, here’s the bad news for animal lovers. It just so happens that keeping livestock is high on the list of things likely to be restricted in deeds or restrictive covenants. Even if farmyard fare aren’t explicitly banned, any mention of not causing a nuisance to adjoining neighbours could derail your livestock plans if Sue next door isn’t on board.
Oh, and just in case you’ve checked your deeds and any associated restrictive covenants and thought you were good to go, we’ll just drop in here that there could also be by laws in your area to prevent it. Make sure you check with your local council about this.
What about other legal restrictions?
In the event that no deeds, restrictive covenants or by laws are stopping you from welcoming livestock to your garden, you’ll still need to abide by all animal husbandry laws once you’ve got them. Not doing this could result in fines, restrictions on keeping animals in the future or even jail time for repeat offences.
You may need to register your land with DEFRA as a holding for any sheep, goats or pigs you plan to welcome. You won’t usually need to register chickens or other poultry so long as you have less than fifty (and if you plan to have more than that… why?!)
It’s also important to keep in mind that livestock need the right housing. Depending on the sort of creature friends you have your heart set on, constructing a new structure for them to live in could require planning permission.
What about selling your home in the future?
Before you get swept up in fantasies about frolicking lambs and/or never having to mow the lawn ever again, you may wish to consider how your plans might affect a future house sale.
Though we’re certainly not advocating abandoning your dreams based on what future buyers may think… if you do intend to sell it might be wise to consider whether a literal pigsty in the garden could affect home value.
On that note, keeping a cockerel in your courtyard is likely to be just the sort of thing that leads to neighbours making noise complaints. (Sorry, Sue.) Besides neighbour warfare being altogether unpleasant, this would be something you’d have to disclose to potential buyers.
But back to restrictions in covenants and deeds… does anyone ever actually enforce them?
Actually, you’d be surprised how often these catch people out.
It’s true that this can be more of a risk in a newer development with an active management company, but that’s not to say that a restrictive covenant or a clause in a deed couldn’t be enforced in a much older property, too.
The bottom line is that if there’s something of this sort in place and you breach it, you could potentially be taken to court. Remember Sue next door? If she got really fed up with your sheep bleating away, she could well be the one leading the legal charge.
If you were to get caught out, the consequences can vary. In most cases, you would be given the opportunity to ‘undo’ the breach. This might mean having to rehome any livestock you’ve taken on, as well as demolishing any shelters that have been built for them. In more serious cases, you could find yourself facing a hefty fine.
Is there anything you can do about this?
We get it, restrictive covenants and the like can be extremely frustrating. It could be doubly so if you’re looking at something that’s been in place for the best part of a century, but we’re afraid these things don’t tend to have sell-by dates.
There may be a small glimmer of hope for you if your livestock ban is in a very old restrictive covenant you believe to be obsolete. In these cases, you may be able to apply to have it modified or discharged altogether. However, please note that we said the glimmer of hope was small; these applications can be expensive and drag on for multiple years, with absolutely no guarantee of success.
Unfortunately, if your livestock dreams have been scuppered by legal tomfoolery, you’re likely to have to grin and bear it. We hate to sound like know it alls… but we can’t let this moment pass without pointing out that this is exactly why it’s so important for all checks and investigations to be done thoroughly when buying a property. Please make sure your conveyancer fully explains the ins and outs of the deeds and any restrictive covenants before you exchange contracts, and do take time to consider whether any of them are deal breakers.
If you’re in a panic about deeds, by laws or restrictive covenants getting in the way of your livestock-owning dreams, please get in touch. We’ll happily help you explore your options, though we must implore you to keep all goats away from us, thank you very much.