gailmom (gailmom) wrote in garden_ladies,

yes'sir Officer: Homesteading laws in the suburbs of Texas

The kiddos are fishing with their dad today, so I have some unexpected time. Figured while my breakfast digests and the pills settle, I'll do a post I've been meaning to do for ages. :)

Then I'm going right back to playing in the yard, and all my indoor work and computer things can continue to sit sadly by, unattended.

I'm frequently asked by neighbors, friends, online folks, and visiting professionals: "you are allowed to do [whatever thing they are marveling over]?!?!"

yes, yes I am.

I can't speak for you in your area, unless your area *is* my area, but i assure you that nothing I'm doing here in any way bends the law.

It is tempting, I admit, to do things I know make sense, regardless of whether the city ordinances agree with me. The problem with such behavior is that it can lead to problems for folks in the future who want to do what we do. Follow the rules! If you don't like the rules, move somewhere with rules you do like, or get involved in your local politics and change the rules where you do live.

The biggest pain in the butt is finding the applicable statutes. They never seem to be in one place. It is worth perusing everything you can though, not just to find things not sorted in a way that makes any sense, but also for gems like the city tree list. If it is on there, it does well here, so that was worth finding. :)

There are a few main areas you want to look for, if you need to go looking things up where you live: water, waste, plants and critters. Really, that is most of what we work with. Though you may find your city also has rules about things like raw milk sales, such things won't apply to most of us suburban folks. I, for instance, don't have enough land to house any milk producing animal, so I won't be trying to sell raw milk. On the other hand, as someone raising meat chickens for my own freezer, rules about slaughtering animals are worth looking into. Know them all if you can, at least in passing. Buying raw milk can get you in just as much trouble as the person illegally selling it, and ignorance of a law does not exempt you from a law.

Who owns the water? Turns out that, if you live in Texas, you own all the water that falls on your property...until it leaves your property, and then it belongs to someone else. In other words, I own my lot, and half the creek behind me...but the water in the creek is not mine to dam or divert, and once the rain goes into the gutter, storm sewer, or drainage ditch, it belongs to someone else.

This means that after I check with any homeowner's association I might have (and I have none, that was a requirement in my house hunting, as I object to them...I do have a neighborhood association though) about what my rain barrels can look like, I can then feel free to catch that water any way I want.

Once I've caught it though, I become subject to any laws regarding standing water. In my case that means that I have to follow regulations that dictate how I handle standing water in order to follow laws designed to help with mosquito control. I must cap the containers to avoid females laying eggs, or I must treat the water in order to keep larvae from becoming adults.

Most of my barrels are screened, those that cannot be I drop Mosquito dunks into. I also check, on a regular basis, for larvae. I find myself tempted regularly at the idea of putting goldfish in them, but I have to check the temperature the barrels get to first...boiled rain barrel fish does not sound delicious.

Waste is another area to check your local laws on. It applies to waste water, as well as solid waste. In my case, it turns out that the rules about grey water are fairly liberal, which is a pleasant surprise. In this case, there was nothing in the city books about it, I had to go hunting further up the chain. If you can't find it in city either, check county, then state. This site is a great place to start. Solid waste has pretty strict laws, and I may have to abandon my midden idea unless I can get it to act as compost and break down more quickly than it has been so far.

Laws about plants can be complex and hard to find. You may have to look into property use codes, as well as city ordinances regarding health and sanitation, fire prevention, etc. Lord help those with a homeowner's association. In my area, what I have to worry about, legally, is whether my plants are "weeds" or lawn above 12". Cultivated plantings are exempt from that ruling. The definition for weeds excludes them. Check definitions (which is usually a separate section at the beginning of the ordinance. either listed as "definitions" or as "general"), if you aren't sure what something refers to. This rule, and others about stacked wood and piles of trash, are there to avoid rat problems and fire hazards, not just to worry about "pretty", so do follow them, even in the areas of your yard where your neighbors can't see. In town, rats get out of control in a hurry and pose a serious health risk and with our continuing years of drought, fire hazards are not something to sneer at. In this case, what that means is that if I want to turn my front yard into garden I absolutely can...provided I keep it neat. While I could, technically, put in a bunch of rows of plants surrounded by fencing, for both intensive gardening and neighbor relations purposes, I'll be doing a much more visually appealing system. It not only keeps the neighbors from complaining to you, it keeps them from getting involved in local politics long enough to put a stop to your (and others) permaculture practices!

Critters are the easiest ones to find on the books, as they tend to be very detailed and readily available., at least in this part of the country. Do look them up for your city though, as they can vary a lot. For example: in my town I can have 10 hens, no roosters, as long as they are contained to my property, maintained so as not to cause excessive flies or smell, and housed 50' from any dwelling not my own. (For instance: I cannot have peacocks, though I would consider them domestic fowl, the city lists them separately...again, check your definitions). In my sister city, right next to us, and separated only by lines on a map and property tax rates, you have to have a permit and be regularly inspected in order to house chickens. That is a major difference, and worth knowing about before you head to the feed store. The rules will dictate not only what sort of farm animals you can have, but also how they should be housed, how much space they need, etc, AND usually there are rules about domestic pet animals as well, how many cats, dogs etc. Before you own pets, you should absolutely be familiar with those rules. It can cost you a lot of money, as well as the heartbreak of losing your animals, not to know the law before you begin.

One last thought: we recently had sidewalks added to our neighborhood (woohoo!!!) This is a good thing and to be celebrated. Do note your easement when you go to put in landscaping however. It would be a shame to have lovely landscaping torn up by the city in order to put in sidewalks or to widen your street enough for a bike would taint your joy in progress. Be aware as well, that when they do claim that space to do what they do, the easement isn't "used up", it just moves inward on your lot. These are things to keep in mind when planning, especially when planning hardscape or long term growth plantings. I wanted to cry when my neighbors lost their lovely old heirloom rose bush to the new sidewalk.
Tags: greywater, homesteading, laws
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