Navigating Urban Beekeeping Laws

Exploring if Beekeeping is Legal in Your City or Neighborhood

Navigating Urban Beekeeping Laws

Reading Time: 4 minutes

By Average Joe Beekeeper – More than a hundred years ago, beekeeping was more of an afterthought on the family farm. A couple of hives were relegated to a small space behind the farmhouse. The farming family really didn’t have to tend the bees. A farmer only had to provide a couple of pine boxes and throw in some bees and in the fall harvested honey. In agricultural areas, there were no concerns with keeping bees — it just happened.

Today, as more urban beekeepers start beekeeping, they are finding roadblocks to their hobby. These include urban beekeeping laws, rules, regulations, zoning, ordinances, and in some cases outright bans on bees — especially with some Homeowners Associations (HOAs). 

This article covers some of the basics pertinent to those who want to keep bees outside of agricultural areas, whether it be for local garden pollination, raising awareness of the plight of our environment or simply harvesting products from the hive including beeswax, propolis, and of course, honey.

Urban Beekeeping Laws: Start with Research

The first step is to check your local urban beekeeping laws and regulations. With the advent of the internet, it is easy to research if there are restrictions you may be facing. In a short article, it is nearly impossible to cover the myriad of jurisdictions and the aspects of all their rules and regulations. With many layers of government, rules and regulations tend to also have many layers. Despite this layering, in many cases, there may be no actual references to beekeeping while in other instances the rules or regulations may be obscure. 

Are Bees Livestock?

To avoid chaos and provide order and sanitary conditions while maintaining neighborhood “standards,” many residential areas have prohibitions on housing livestock in the backyard rather than the barnyard. Zoning regulations may specify one cannot keep livestock within “city limits.” The big question becomes “Are bees livestock?” Well, it depends …

Wikipedia defines “livestock” as the following:

“…commonly defined as domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce labor and commodities such as meat, eggs, milk, fur, leather, and wool. The term is sometimes used to refer solely to those that are bred for consumption, while other times it refers only to farmed ruminants, such as cattle and goats.”    

In general, it would appear that bees are not livestock. In fact, many beekeeping references indicate that bees are not “domesticated” and probably never will be. So what does domesticated really mean? Going back to Wikipedia:

“…a sustained multi-generational relationship in which one group of organisms assumes a significant degree of influence over the reproduction and care of another group to secure a more predictable supply of resources from that second group.”

Most beekeepers will tell you that bees are never “predictable.” I point out to students in beekeeping presentations that “the Bees rarely read the books.” Despite volumes of information published in both scientific journals and biology texts on “bee-havior,” one can cite numerous examples where bees do not follow the rules we have put in place.

Since bees are unpredictable and therefore not really domesticated and with livestock characterized as domesticated, then wouldn’t bees be exempt from livestock rules? Well, yes and no as everything is subject to interpretation. 

Even if bees are not subject to livestock rules, zoning can affect the ability to keep bees. A recently changed ordinance in Colorado Springs, CO originally stated “7.3.105: ADDITIONAL STANDARDS FOR SPECIFIC USES ALLOWED IN RESIDENTIAL ZONES … Beehives, provided that they are not a nuisance or injurious to the surrounding neighborhood and are limited to one per principal use, are allowed in any residential zone district.”  In that particular jurisdiction, what determines a nuisance? Whose interpretation takes precedence? What is injurious? Who owns the bees? Can someone prove ownership? These questions and others can all come into play if legal proceedings of any type are undertaken. 

The best defense is a good offense. In Part 2 of this series on urban beekeeping laws, I will relate my own case study on the local Homeowner’s Association banning beekeeping in my neighborhood. I will cover the research I accomplished prior to the ban, the research I performed leading to a presentation in favor of keeping bees (despite the ban) and the eventual outcome. Part 3 will cover how to approach changing the rules, regulations, ordinances, zoning and other aspects of the law when it comes to beekeeping. 

Until then, bee calm and buzz on!


Disclaimer: The Average Joe Beekeeper is not a lawyer or legal representative. All opinions stated in this series of articles are strictly his own based on over five years of beekeeping experience. This article is not a recommendation on how to avoid rules, regulations and other legal matters associated with beekeeping. If you need formal advice on the legality of your beekeeping endeavors, you should find a professional that you trust to represent your interests.    

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *