Zoning Issues for Horse Properties


Every now and again, I've noticed realty signs that advertise "horse privileges" as one of the distinctive amenities included with a home for sale. One might wonder what such an advertisement signifies. Does this property enjoy certain horse rights other properties lack? What are the rights of homeowners or tenants to keep horses on their lots? This article focuses on the zoning rules of three jurisdictions, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Maricopa County, exploring the "horse privileges" granted by those three Zoning Ordinances. (The impact of deed restrictions is not discussed in this article). While there are many other jurisdictions in the metro Phoenix area, the three selected jurisdictions provide an instructive frame of reference for this inquiry.


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. Illegal structures will need variance approval, and legal assistance is advised.


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. Again, illegal structures will require variance approval and legal assistance is advised.


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" (RU-190, 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 a year old amendment to 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.

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 purchasing a manufactured structure) or anything with a roof, be sure to get a building permit first to avoid setback problems.


Many 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. .





as to why

Horse Owners and Horse Businesses

Might Need an Equine Law Attorney


  1.   The new trainer from Germany did not have the proper visa for the U.S.
  2.  The footing in the reining arena had “sink-holes.”
  3.  The horse ranch was in the individual’s name rather than in an entity.
  4.  The Release was signed only by a 14-year old rider.
  5.  The insurance company canceled the liability insurance.
  6.  The trucking company did not stop to water the horses for two days.
  7.  The agricultural land tax break was lost.
  8.  The lessee of lessor’s horse has moved the horse to an undisclosed location.
  9.  The hunter/jumper trainer did not enforce the rule “no jumping without a helmet.”
  10.  The attorney they retained knew nothing about horses.