When I decided to start keeping bees, a big concern for me was whether it was allowed where I live. Luckily for me it was. But what about in your area? The answer varies widely depending on where you live.
Do I need permission to keep bees? It seems like every city has their own rules and regulations when it comes to beekeeping on residential property. In some places you are free to keep bees with few restrictions. Some places may require registration or a license. And other cities ban beekeeping outright. You should check local laws to see what your city council says regarding beekeeping.
But there’s never been a better time to start keeping a few beehives in your urban, suburban, or rural garden. Because of the decline in bee populations, more and more places are becoming tolerant of beekeeping, with some cities changing laws to encourage beekeepers. In this article you’ll learn if you need permission to keep bees, as well as some general beekeeping rules in different countries around the world.
Do You Need Permission To Keep Bees?
The answer is a resounding “maybe.”
It really depends on where you live. Whether you need a license to keep bees is determined not based on just country, state, or county level. But more often than not the rules regarding beekeeping are set at a city level.
For that reason it’s always best to check your local bylaws and ask your closest beekeepers’ association for advice before setting up your first hive.
In some cities you can keep bees as long as you have permission. In others you don’t even need to ask, just as long as your property meets a certain size or other requirements. And some cities simply ban beekeeping outright. If where you live falls under the latter category, you have my sympathy. Perhaps it’s time to move!
It’s not worth the risk of keeping bees without permission. You can face stiff penalties for not registering your hive or keeping bees in an area where they’ve been banned. A hive of buzzing bees is not exactly a covert operation, and your bees will have trouble flying under the radar.
Are You Allowed to Keep Bees in a Residential Area?
Beekeeping on agricultural land is largely a non-issue and allowed in most areas. That’s because there’s plenty of room for the bees to buzz about, and you don’t need to worry about being a nuisance to your neighbors. You need to be sure to keep hives at a reasonable distance from the property boundary with you neighbor to avoid possible conflict (for example if they keep livestock they might be concerned by the presence of bees).
So when talking about the laws regarding beekeeping, we’re normally mostly concerned with the laws in residential areas.
The laws regarding beekeeping can vary tremendously. You may have one city with almost no restrictions on beekeeping, while the next town over has a complete ban on it. That’s why it’s critical to find out what the law says in your specific location.
The best place to start is by checking your local zoning ordinance. This will specify whether bees are allowed where you live. They might be allowed “as of right,” meaning no permit required. You may need a special permit, or they may be completely banned.
Depending on where you live, you could be able to set up a hive in your yard without asking for permission from anyone. In other places you might need to notify or even get permission from your neighbors before you can start.
In some cases your city’s laws can be vague about whether bees are allowed or not. In this case you’ll want to speak with your local zoning enforcement officer for further instruction.
After you determine that bees are allowed in your area, your work isn’t done yet. You still need to ensure you comply with any requirements for having bees. Some common requirements for beekeeping in residential areas include:
- A minimum lot size
- A maximum number of hives or swarms
- Whether enclosures such as hedges and fencing are required
- Keeping hives a minimum distance from property lines or structures
- The type of bees you are allowed to keep (many places ban Africanized bees because they are less docile)
- A requirement for an on-site water source (to stop bees from being attracted to pools and other sources of water at neighboring properties)
Whatever your situation it’s always a good idea to try to get support from your neighbors. People often misunderstand honey bees and are immediately worried about the risk of stings. In reality it’s possible your neighbors won’t even notice the bees! And when they understand that bees are not aggressive by nature, people are usually understanding. And then you can always bribe them with a few jars of honey!
Beekeeping in the US
Like most countries, the beekeeping laws in the United States vary not only from state to state, but also from city to city. There are far too many details to discuss in one short article, so it’s best to check with your local laws and authorities. Here are a few examples though:
In Florida you can keep bees on non-agricultural private land only with written permission.
Whereas in Tucson, Arizona, you’re allowed one hive per 2,500 square feet of property. There aren’t many other restrictions as long as your bees aren’t being a nuisance. Mostly basic things like having your hive 5 feet from the property line.
In Cleveland, Ohio, beekeepers need to get a 2-year license which costs $50.
In Madison Wisconsin with a $10 annual license you’re allowed up to 6 hives per lot, and there is no minimum lot size specified! As long as you meet other requirements like being 3 feet from property lines, 25 feet from nearby structures, and 10 feet from public sidewalks.
In Minneapolis, Minnesota, qualifying to keep bees is a lot more work. You need to attend a qualified beekeeping course and get written consent from at last 80% of your neighbors within a hundred feet of your property. You also need to pay an initial $100 permit fee. Not the friendliest city when it comes to backyard bees!
Beekeeping in Canada
In Canada, beekeepers have to register their hives with the province where they’re kept. Normally this is the Ministry of Agriculture for your part of the country. This is the only kind of permit you need to keep bees in Canada.
It appears that only honey bee hives need to be registered, and you can keep other types of bees such as mason bees in your yard without needing permission.
Some cities in Canada have specific bylaws that allow beekeeping. Others don’t allow beekeeping, but usually turn a blind eye as long as there are no complaints. And other cities may strictly enforce a no beekeeping policy.
Cities in Canada tend to be getting more progressive, and more and more city councils are changing the bylaws to allow for beekeeping within city limits.
If you’re planning to keep bees in your backyard in Canada, it’s best to follow your local laws.
A permit is required to transport bees between different provinces in Canada. And a few provinces require a permit to be able to sell hives or used beekeeping equipment (This measure is to help prevent the spread of bee diseases).
Your Canadian beehive may be subject to inspection by apiary inspectors who are appointed under Canada’s Bee Act to make sure honey bee hives are free of disease and pests.
Canadian beekeepers have a responsibility to report all cases of Small Hive Beetle and American Foulbrood that affect their hives. It’s against the law to conceal the presence of these pests and diseases.
All beehives in Canada require a movable frame so that inspectors can access the brood nest.
Bee colonies must also be kept at least 30 meters from all property lines, which makes it infeasible to keep bees in smaller backyards. Hives also can’t be placed within 10 meters of a highway.
Beekeeping in the UK
Generally you aren’t required to have a license to keep bees in the UK.
However, some local councils have banned beekeeping or may require localized licenses. So it’s still a smart idea to check with your local authorities or beekeeper’s association within your jurisdiction.
It’s usually a good idea to belong to a local beekeeping association just to learn from other beekeepers, and be aware of local conditions or problems that may be affecting bees. Beekeeping associations in the UK will often have regular meetings and hold training programs for new beekeepers.
Certain pest and diseases are notifiable in the UK. This is particularly the case for American foulbrood and European foulbrood diseases and for pests like small hive beetle and any species of the tropilaelaps mite. If any of these problems arise, beekeepers must contact the local bee inspector.
Did you know, the British Royal family has a long history of beekeeping and employs their own full-time beekeeper.
Beekeeping in Australia
You may be required to have a permit to keep bees on your property, depending on what area of the country you live in. Typically permits are assessed on a case by case basis, and you aren’t likely to receive a permit if bees would be likely to cause a nuisance in your area.
Cases where Australians are not required to have a beekeeping permit include:
On land classified as a rural premises (as long as beehives are kept a certain distance from adjacent properties).
If you won’t be keeping the bees for longer than 8 weeks during a 12 month period and you’re keeping them for the purpose of pollinating crops on your farm
Different councils will have different restrictions and conditions on beekeeping, so check with your local authorities. Separate approval is also required to keep bees on Crown Land. Some areas of Australia even require you to be a registered beekeeper under state legislation.
In New South Wales you’ll need to register your beehive with the Department of Primary Industries. If you’re keeping bees for recreational purposes this will cost $60, or $100 if you register as a business entity. You’ll receive a registration number that must be displayed on all of your hives.
Similar to the rules in Canada, Australian beekeepers are responsible for reporting signs of disease to the authorities and having their hive inspected.
Generally speaking, if beekeeping is permitted where you live and you’re in a residential or urban area, you should take into account the proximity of the hives to your neighbors. Whereas if you live in an isolated rural area, it will be much easier to site you hives where they don’t conflict with a neighbors use of his land. Locating your hives well is an important part of keeping good relations with your neighbors.
Can someone sue me if they get stung by my bees?
It’s possible, especially in more litigious cultures.
But if someone gets stung it doesn’t automatically make the beekeeper liable. It would likely be too difficult for someone to prove that they were stung by your bees, as opposed to a wasp or hornet or even a wild bee. But someone could potentially argue that you acted negligently by not exercising reasonable care and allowing your bees off your property.
It’s highly unlikely such a lawsuit would be successful. But if you’re keeping bees in an area where it’s prohibited or you failed to follow other beekeeping requirements, you put yourself at a higher risk.
Still, you might want to talk with your insurance agent and see if such an incident would be covered under your current homeowner’s insurance.
If you keep your bees in a proper manner then you are unlikely to be found liable for injury. The case that I have read where beekeepers have lost legal battles involve beekeepers who acted irresponsibly, keeping large numbers of hives near a neighbor’s property line and using bad hive management.
Is it illegal to kill bees?
There’s a misconception that honey bees are considered endangered and that it’s illegal to kill them. This simply isn’t true. Honey bees can sometimes be a nuisance if they’re stinging pets or children or constantly buzzing around hummingbird feeders. People are within their rights to kill any of your bees that come on their land by swatting or trapping them, as long as they aren’t trespassing on your property.
Wherever you are, good luck with setting up your hives!