Property Rights

Arbitrary Animal Limits: Farmington as a Model Example

Last year, we released the Freest Cities report—a first-of-its-kind analysis of city laws and fees for the top 50 most populous cities throughout Utah. One of the metrics we analyzed was that of animal ownership, helping residents understand how many animals their cities legally allow them to have (and, by extension, what the city has prohibited).

In many cities, the law imposes an arbitrary limit of ownership. For example, assuming a standard starter home in a single family residential zone, Lehi residents can have two dogs, Logan lets you have four, whereas North Ogden only allows a single dog.

There is no data that supports these numerical restrictions. Three small dogs might make less noise than one large one, for example. The potential impact to neighbors is not mitigated properly by imposing a cap. And, of course, it turns peaceful residents into criminals when they, as prudent caretakers of animals, exceed the limit but create no negative burden on their neighbors.

There is a better way—and Farmington is leading that way. Like other cities, Farmington establishes an arbitrary limit of animals. But their ordinance stipulates that these numbers are not mandates, but presumptions.

First, the city establishes a base standard with which animal-owning residents are expected to comply:

All animals must be kept and maintained in such a manner so as NOT to degrade (below a reasonable standard), the health, safety, noise, odor or sanitation environment of persons dwelling on neighboring lots.

Once established, Farmington’s ordinance then states that the animal ownership limits they include “are presumed to meet the standards” just described. Further, and importantly, “This presumption is rebuttable by the [animal owner] proving that greater numbers of animals are being kept and meeting these standards, or by the City proving that equal or lesser number of animals are being kept in a manner not meeting these standards.”

In other words, residents may exceed the limit as they desire, provided that they do not negatively impact their neighbors. Pretty straightforward.

Unfortunately, Farmington is an outlier on this issue; our Freest Cities report showed that all other cities we studied outlawed owning animals beyond the arbitrary limit. To respect the liberty of their residents, other cities should following Farmington’s lead.