• Zoning and "Horse Privileges" on Your Residential Property
  • August 6, 2012
  • Law Firm: Jennings, Strouss & Salmon, P.L.C. - Phoenix Office
  • Just what are "horse privileges"? We see them touted on "For Sale" signs, but what are they and who has them and how does a property get them? The short answer is that cities and towns and counties often have zoning ordinances that speak to the keeping of horses, and many residential properties enjoy "horse privileges," within certain parameters. Deed restrictions might limit what residential property owners are allowed to do, but absent those deed restrictions, under the zoning laws many residential properties may be used in some way for horses.

    This article offers a quick review of the "horse privileges" zoning laws in the City of Phoenix, the City of Scottsdale, and in unincorporated areas of Maricopa County. The laws will vary from city to city, town to town, and county to county, so legal assistance is advised.


    The Phoenix Zoning Ordinance restricts the keeping of horses to occupant (owner or tenant)-owned horses on single-family residential property of 10,000 sq. ft. or greater. There is no limitation on the number of horses which may be kept on a single-family lot, so long as they are all occupant-owned. Public stables or riding academies require a special permit approval and a site of a minimum size of 10 acres. Commercial stables cannot be permitted as a home occupation on residential property. The City of Phoenix provides specific regulations regarding the keeping of animals: health nuisances due to a presence of flies, odors, dust or accumulation of manure are prohibited. Manure is to be removed at least twice each week. A premises upon which a horse is kept is expressly required to be sanitary and is subject to Health Officer inspection.

    The ability to board horses for others is very limited in the City of Phoenix. No structures should be placed or erected without proper permitting. Setbacks will apply. Structures which violate setback or spacing requirements will need variance approval, and legal assistance is advised (see discussion of County below).


    Scottsdale does not regulate the number of occupant-owned horses allowed to be kept on single-family residential property. Commercial raising, boarding and training of horses all require a use permit. The Scottsdale Code defines the term "Ranch" as a minimum 5 acre parcel, with activities limited primarily to horse breeding, training of groups of 8 or fewer students, and boarding only those animals involved in breeding and training. A "Commercial Stable" in Scottsdale must be at least 10 acres in size. Very detailed requirements for the operation of a commercial stable are stipulated.

    As in Phoenix, Scottsdale also sets forth specific requirements prohibiting health nuisances. Twice weekly manure removal is required. Storage of manure must use "insect-tight containers." Steps must be taken to prevent the breeding of flies and mosquitoes. And of course, no structures should be built nor located on any lot without first obtaining proper building permits. Structures which violate setback or spacing requirements will require variance approval and legal assistance is advised (see discussion of County below).


    An occupant may keep occupant-owned horses on any Single-Family-zoned or Rural-zoned lot in unincorporated Maricopa County. In Single Family Residential zoning districts (R1-35 or smaller lots) horses must be kept in corrals located in the rear yard, set back at least 40 feet from all lot lines, and containing at least 1,200 square feet of area per horse kept therein. The rights for keeping horses are broader for properties zoned "Rural" (such as RU-70 or RU-43). In Rural districts, there is no space requirement per horse and therefore no limit on the number of occupant-owned horses which may be kept on any Rural-zoned lot.

    But an even broader right accrues to Rural-zoned lots in Maricopa County: public equestrian uses. Under the Maricopa County Zoning Ordinance, up to 5 horses not owned by the owner or occupant may be boarded on a Rural-zoned lot. Moreover, non-commercial public activities (no admission fee) may be conducted on a Rural-zoned lot, so long as no more than 24 persons are involved. Thus, a riding class may be conducted on a Rural-zoned lot. However, horse operations involving a greater number of horses or larger events, or events where admission is charged, will require additional permitting, and legal assistance is advised.

    Other limitations in unincorporated Maricopa County are:

    1. In the Single Family Residential zoning districts, keeping of horses must be accessory to an approved primary use, such as a house.

    2. In Rural-zoned districts, keeping of horses is, itself, an approved primary use. The public equestrian uses, however, must be accessory to an approved primary use.

    3. No specific regulations apply to the regular collections/storage of manure; however, general rules regarding public nuisance, health hazards, and the collection of trash do apply. Therefore, the property must be kept clean enough not to violate those rules, and regular cleaning is advised.

    4. Any shade structure of any kind, enclosed or not, is considered a structure. Structures cannot be placed in setback areas, i.e., along the edges of yards, except in certain areas defined in the Zoning Ordinance. THIS IS A PROBLEM FOR MANY PROPERTY OWNERS: beautiful barns are frequently illegally constructed, without building permits in setback areas. Lot owners find out about the setback problems when they seek to sell, or when a complaint is filed, when they decide to build a swimming pool or add-on to their homes. Variances for illegal setback encroachments are difficult to obtain. If you have such an illegal structure, you likely need legal assistance. If you are considering building a barn, shade or anything with a roof, or purchasing a manufactured structure, be sure to get a building permit first to avoid setback problems.


    If your horse-related use has been long-established at its present location, you might be able to continue it, or even make minor changes to it, without having to bring your operation or property into strict compliance with more recently changed zoning laws. For example, the City of Scottsdale has been known, on occasion, to be generous in finding ways to allow horse operations, such as boarding and training, to continue if they have been established over time. Uses which no longer comply with the law, but did at inception, are known as "grandfathered" or "legal nonconforming" uses. In such cases, government records will be reviewed, such as aerial photos, permit records, and applications. Where it appears that a use was established before permits were required, or where records no longer exist, legality at inception might sometimes be assumed.

    Continuity of use is important as well. Some of Maricopa County's laws have been changed to allow more freedom of use, rather than to restrict horse-related uses. And Maricopa County does not proactively seek to find violations. Like most cities and towns, Maricopa County responds to complaints, but does not patrol on the lookout for violations.

    By contrast, new horse operations will be held to strict compliance with zoning and health codes. Planning and Zoning Commission hearings and neighborhood meetings will be required, followed by hearings before city/town councils or county supervisors. In such cases, legal assistance is advised.


    In all cases, whether the horse uses are old or new, horse property owners should understand that impacts to adjacent neighbors - dust, odors, traffic, etc. - must be minimized as much as possible. Watering of riding areas, use of sand for dust control, and frequent, regular removal and storage of manure are very important in avoiding complaints to city/town/county officials. Fewer complaints equates to preserved "horse privileges."


    Many residential properties have "horse privileges" under County and City zoning ordinances, subject to certain restrictions. This article is not intended to replace the advice of an attorney and is limited in its scope.