Knowledgebase-Keeping Honey Bees in a Residential Area

Information Product

Title:Keeping Honey Bees in a Residential Area
Summary:MTAS was asked about regulating the keeping of honey bees inside the corporate limits of the town.
Original Author:Ashburn, Melissa
Product Create Date:05/31/2012
Last Reviewed on::05/30/2017
Subject:Animal control; Animal control--Laws and regulations; Code enforcement; Nuisances
Type:Legal Opinion
Legal Opinion: Keeping Honey Bees public.docx

Reference Documents:

Text of Document: From: Ashburn, Melissa Ann
Thursday, May 31, 2012 8:03 AM
RE: Is it Legal to Keep Honey Bees

Dear Management Consultant,

You are correct that this statute, T.C.A. 44-15-124 prevents a city from passing any regulations directly aimed at keeping honey bees. The city may limit location through zoning, and it does appear that this person is running a commercial business in a residential area. Their current regulations should prohibit businesses in residential areas, so they can pursue some relief based on those zoning regulations. This will likely require a state court lawsuit. This will only work, however, if the zoning regulations existed at the time the man started keeping bees.

If their zoning ordinance does not generally prohibit operating a business in a residential area, or if the language used does not apply to activities such as keeping honey bees, then the Town will be out of luck. The reason is the so-called “grandfather” statute on zoning, T.C.A. 13-7-208. Under this law, any business in operation when a change in zoning occurs that impacts that business becomes grandfathered and is not subject to the new zoning regulations. So the ability of the Town to control this current situation depends entirely on the state of their zoning regulations as of the date this guy started keeping bees.

The Town may inquire as to whether or not this person is complying with state law regarding his operations, but they have no authority to actually enforce the state regulations. Here is a link to the webpage containing information about the state apiarist who is responsible for enforcing the state regulations for beekeepers:
The beekeeper is required to register with the state, under T.C.A. 44-55-105, but failure to do so appears to only result in written notice by this state apiarist, who may then simply inspect and register the beekeeper. This apiarist does not answer to local governments, and it appears his enforcement authority is rather independent, meaning you can’t file a complaint and prosecute through his office.

As to your question about potential liability, that is addressed in the statute:

    (a) Any person who has registered an apiary pursuant to 44-15-105, is otherwise in compliance with this part and operates such apiary in a reasonable manner shall not be liable for any personal injury or property damage that is caused by the keeping and maintaining of:
      (1) Bee equipment, queen breeding equipment, apiaries, affiliated appliances that are located on such apiary; or
      (2) Bees that nest in a beehive that is located on such apiary.
    (b) The limitation of liability established by this section shall not apply to intentional tortuous conduct or acts or omissions constituting gross negligence.
    TN ST 44-15-125

If a person is injured, their recourse is a private matter and they will have to pursue relief through the courts in a lawsuit. This is not an activity which the Town may regulate or control in any respect, except perhaps through zoning as noted above. It is completely different from regulating dogs or other animals within city limits. Any nuisance action would have to be brought by injured private parties, as the Town is precluded from taking any action.

I hope this is helpful,

Melissa A. Ashburn
Legal Consultant
University of Tennessee
Institute for Public Service
Municipal Technical Advisory Service

Please remember that these legal opinions were written based on the facts of a given city at a certain time. The laws referenced in any opinion may have changed or may not be applicable to your city or circumstances.

Always consult with your city attorney or an MTAS consultant before taking any action based on information contained in this database.