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The Case of the Crowing Rooster

Wed, 04/03/2024 - 19:15
Roosters are known for their rousing morning calls, and Efrain Mayorga’s is no different, but its crowing has prompted numerous complaints from a Springs neighbor and landed Mr. Mayorga on the court calendar for a noise nuisance violation.
Carissa Katz

It is not illegal to own roosters in the Town of East Hampton, but not everyone enjoys their enthusiastic way of meeting the morning.

In the three years Kevin Cooper has served as the director of code enforcement for East Hampton Town, he has issued only a single ticket for a noise nuisance violation. These are different from noise complaints due to leaf blowers, for example; he issued 89 of those in 2023 alone.

The noise nuisance ticket was given to Efrain Mayorga, who lives on Fort Pond Boulevard in Springs, because he has a single rooster, a gift to his 10-year-old granddaughter, that crows each morning before sunrise.

A neighbor, Marc Auerbach, whose Malone Street property abuts Mr. Mayorga’s, has made repeated complaints to the town for over a year about the noise, in the process providing the town with pages of dates and times of rooster crows. (Two other nearby neighbors, one who has six ducks, have never lodged a complaint.)

“The very first rooster crows of the day at or around 4:45 a.m. would wake up me and my children and ruin our sleep,” Mr. Auerbach wrote in a notarized statement to Animal Control on Oct. 18, 2023. “I and my family simply want to enjoy our life and our property in a peaceful and harmonious manner, and I want to know that if I choose to offer a lease to a rental tenant for financial reasons then that tenant will not terminate such a lease solely because of a nuisance-causing rooster next door.”

The Mayorgas have lived in their house since 2001, when it was built. Mr. Auerbach purchased his house in November 2021, and offers it for rent on VRBO. It’s advertised as sleeping 10.

The rooster episode tells a story of how difficult it can be to get the town to enforce the code, but also the static that can arise between people renting their houses to short-term visitors and neighbors who live here full time, roosters and all.

Ana Nunez, Mr. Mayorga’s daughter, said there have been pool parties at Mr. Auerbach’s house until 4 a.m. but that her parents “are not the kind of people who would complain about such a thing.” Mr. Auerbach could not be reached for comment.

In his notarized statement last fall, Mr. Auerbach said he was told by Mr. Mayorga in February 2023 that the rooster would be gone by Memorial Day 2023, and when it wasn’t, he called him on the broken promise and their relations soured. Soured to the point that Mr. Auerbach sent his neighbor a threatening letter, purportedly from a lawyer.

“He is nowhere to be found as an admitted attorney in New York nor does he have a valid office address or phone number as improperly included in the letterhead,” Claudia Batarseh, an attorney hired by Mr. Mayorga, wrote to Jacob Turner, a town attorney. “It is my belief this is a made-up letter which, as you know, is a crime.”

After receiving the letter, the Mayorgas called the police. “Complainant states that Auerbach has yelled at her through her fence and at her front door about the noise from the rooster and has given her fake documents claiming to be from his attorney. Auerbach has agreed to refrain from all direct contact with the complainant,” wrote Andrew Nimmo, an East Hampton Town police officer.

“We went through our usual investigative steps,” said Mr. Cooper. A town attorney told Mr. Cooper he had enough evidence to open a town code charge. “I spoke with the complainant, and he elaborated how the rooster is an inconvenience and a quality-of-life issue for him. It took months of investigation.”

“The town always tries to be reasonable. We’re always looking for compliance before punishment,” said Robert Connelly, the town attorney. The maximum fine Mr. Mayorga could receive for the rooster noise is $1,000. “I don’t know if an offer was made in this case, I’m assuming one was. But if the defendant isn’t willing to bargain, we’re left with no choice but to try it. Since I’ve been here none have gone to trial.”

Last June, Mr. Auerbach wrote to Heather Miller, an animal control officer. “I can only hope that as they amass citations/violations they might just work out that there is a simple fix — remove the damn rooster from the property.”

The Mayorgas claim they have taken steps to try and appease Mr. Auerbach, but to no avail. They built a shed over their chicken coop and enclosed its walls. “We are proposing that Mr. Mayorga will take the rooster indoors from the hours of 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. every day to avoid any alleged noise which is in violation of the ordinance 185-1 and outside the hours of the agricultural exception in exchange for a dismissal of these charges,” wrote Ms. Batarseh.

But Mr. Turner, a town attorney, didn’t like the deal. “Any arrangement would be done within a plea to a charge and a conditional discharge regarding the defendant not allowing noise from the rooster.”

Ms. Batarseh said they’d file to dismiss the case. “I do not want to subject the client to a conditional discharge based on the behavior of the complainant.” The case was set to go to trial on Tuesday, but was postponed to April 30.

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