Swarms and the City

Urban beekeeping is all the buzz in cities nationwide, challenging local governments to find a balance between the protection of a vital species and the rights and concerns of urban communities.

The lowly honey bee affects our lives more than we may imagine. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, bees pollinate 80% of flowering plants and about 75% of the nuts, fruits and vegetables Americans eat. The use of more potent pesticides, a warming climate and an increase in lethal apiary parasites are just a few of the factors that are contributing to the demise of honey bee colonies in record numbers – and setting off alarms bells with bee advocates.

A new urgency

Without bees doing what they do best, experts fear that our food supplies and our very own survival could be in jeopardy—which is why protecting bee populations is taking on new importance and urgency.

With traditional agricultural and suburban areas becoming less hospitable to the honey bee, urban areas are becoming a growing hive of activity for raising and protecting bees. In cities nationwide, it’s not uncommon to find “urban apiarists” setting up bee colonies on city rooftops and apartment building terraces. Experts are discovering that bees adapt surprisingly well to urban environments and are actually thriving due to a wider variety of food sources. Urban bees also have higher winter survival rates and produce higher honey yields than suburban and rural bees.

Bees are hip!

Urban beekeeping has also become a “cool” thing to do. In recent years, hives have been set up in New York City’s Bryant Park, right in the middle of Manhattan, allowing people to be a little more in touch with nature, plants, and bugs than urban life usually allows. Such exposure may inspire a new generation of urban and rural apiarists.

Changing attitudes and regulations

While some areas of the country have outright bans on urban beekeeping, many cities have recently changed their livestock ordinances to allow residents to pursue beekeeping. Notably, Portland, OR; Cleveland, OH; Milwaukee, WI; Boston, MA; and Baltimore, MD have updated their beekeeping regulations in recent years.

Local planning and zoning ordinances can ensure the proper and safe raising of urban bees.

The Food Policy Council of Washtenaw County, MI points out that there are several aspects of beekeeping in its region that an ordinance can control such as:

  • Number and Size of Hives
    Most ordinances limit the number of hives or colonies you can keep on your property to one or two hives.
  • Hive Setbacks
    To reduce contact with people, most ordinances require a setback from both the property line and occupied structures, unless the hive is located against a five to six foot high solid wall or dense hedge. Setbacks range from five feet to two hundred and fifty feet.
  • Flyway Barriers
    Flyways are used to ensure that bees fly above ground level over property lines to access their hive.
  • Access to Water Source
    Bees need access to fresh water. If water is not provided for the bees, the bees will use neighboring swimming pools and other sources of water on adjacent properties.
  • Neighbor Consent
    When someone applies for a beekeeping permit, many cities require the applicant to notify neighbors, usually within 200 feet of their property. Because some people are allergic to bees, bees can pose a health risk. Neighbors are typically given a period of one to two weeks to submit an objection to the permit. If an objection is submitted, a hearing is scheduled to review the permit.
  • Permitting and Fees
    Almost all municipalities that regulate beekeeping require a permit and yearly inspections. Permit fees can range from $5-$100.

If you are considering urban beekeeping ordinances in your area, these are some topics that many agree are good to keep in mind.

How are communities near you regulating bees?

eCode360® clients can use the Multicode search feature to search our entire database of more than 2,200 eCodes to find beekeeping legislation in nearby communities that you can compare to your local laws or to use as samples for developing new legislation.

Questions? Call us at 800.836.8834 or send an email to [email protected].


JSTOR Daily, The Rise of The City Bee—How Urbanites Built the 21st-Century Apiculture, by Claire Cameron, November, 2017

PerfectBEE, The Growth and Feasibility of Urban Beekeeping

Washtenaw County, MI Food Policy Council, Municipal Regulations and FAQs About Urban Beekeeping

Skip to content