With the burgeoning interest in locally grown produce and all things “green,” could the return of home beekeeping have been far behind?  In addition to making honey, pollinators are essential to a good garden, production of food crops and the health of flowering trees and bushes.   Locally grown honey surely is better than what comes in those plastic bears at the supermarket.  In fact, there is a huge resurgence in hobby beekeeping nationally and in Atlanta as well.  Emory University has bee hives, and this spring Georgia Tech is putting hives on a meadow growing on the roof of Clough Commons, the new LEED certified undergraduate science center.  Even the White House is on Board.  See, www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2010/06/23/secret-life-white-house-bees.  I recently attended a seminar sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Beekeepers Association, Inc.  There were over 200 attendees and registration had been closed for over two months prior the event!  As I listened to the speakers talk about the benefits and mechanics of beekeeping my mind naturally drifted to how my condominium and homeowner association clients would react to finding out that an Owner intended to put a beehive in his backyard . . .

Georgia law is generally friendly toward bees. Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 2-14-41.1 provides:

No county, municipal corporation, consolidated government, or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or continue in effect any ordinance, rule, regulation, or resolution prohibiting, impeding, or restricting the establishment or maintenance of honeybees in hives.

Recently, Cobb County Code Enforcement cited a beekeeper under Cobb County’s livestock ordinance.  When the officer went to serve the violation notice, however, the beekeeper explained that there is no way that bees could be considered livestock and the citation was dismissed.   While it is clear that no governmental agency can prohibit the keeping of bees, that proscription would not mean that a community’s own documents could not have an enforceable covenant prohibiting bees.  But does the language in most covenants address bees?   Keeping the usual caveat in mind, that you need to check the covenants for your specific community, most “Animals and Pets” provisions start out something like this:

No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept on any Lot; provided, however, dogs or cats may be kept on a Lot, not to exceed a total of three (3) such animals, provided they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purposes.

Is a bee an animal?  Under some broad definitions, anything that is not a plant or a mineral is an animal, but other definitions limit animals to mammals as opposed to reptiles, fish and insects.   Arguably, that provision would not bar an Owner from keeping bees because a bee is not an animal, livestock or poultry and, as we all know, covenants are strictly construed in favor of free use of property.  Some covenants contain a slightly more tailored provision which addresses “Insects” as follows:  “No Person shall permit any thing or condition to exist upon any Lot which shall induce, breed or harbor noxious insects.”  But is a honeybee “noxious?”  I met several hundred people in one day who would say “No!”

Could the presence of bees be a “nuisance” as that term is used in covenants?  Nuisance provisions are always the provision of last resort when trying to find some provision to fit a condition that the Association wants to address.   Nuisance provisions usually contain language such as:  “No plants, animals, device or thing of any sort shall be maintained in the Community whose activities or existence is in any way noxious, dangerous, unsightly, unpleasant or of a nature as may diminish or destroy the enjoyment of the Community by other Owners and Occupants.”  The primary reason an Association or other Owner may want to prohibit the keeping of bees in the community has to be the fear of being stung.  But how dangerous is a bee sting?  And would it rise to the level of being “noxious” to satisfy a nuisance provision?

I thought the speakers at the beekeeping seminar might be minimizing things when they said that it is perfectly normal for a bee sting to cause swelling, and that you only need to worry if you stop breathing.  No one wants to get stung, but unless you are actually opening a hive to work with the bees, or step on one, bee stings are rare.  And, to put it in perspective:  According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, 33,687 people died in traffic deaths; 42,917 people died of poisoning, 31,672 people died from firearms and 50 died from bee stings.  Of course no one want to know, or be, one of the 50, but the risk of serious complications arising from a bee sting is certainly rare.

Taking another approach:  A beehive is, under most definitions, a “structure” which would require advance written approval of the Architectural Control Committee or the Board.  However, I was surprised to learn that beehives now come in all colors and can be painted green or brown to be camouflaged into its surroundings.  Some even have copper or other ornamental tops.  So, before denying such a request out of hand, the ACC or the Board may want to review any submitted plans on a case by case basis.

Even if a community decides that keeping bees on individual lots is not in keeping with its ‘community-wide standard,’ a hive or two may be a great addition to the community garden or the common elements.  Bee thinking!!