Oregon Supports Residential Beekeeping

But beware of local nuisance laws

With honey bee populations facing threats to their habitat and survival, communities are increasingly invested in supporting diverse beekeeping efforts, including urban backyard hives. What was once viewed as dangerous for a neighborhood setting has largely been embraced as providing important pollinator support. But there are still risks to keeping bees, as well as to living next to them, in a city environment.

If you want to keep bees in your own yard, it’s a bit more complicated than getting a pet. Like most states, Oregon has a Right to Farm law, which provides some latitude to farm uses of land that might otherwise be regarded as a nuisance—such as certain noises and smells. Beekeeping is considered an agricultural use, but if hives are kept in residential areas that aren’t zoned for farming, this exception would not apply.

In Oregon, beekeeping is regulated statewide by the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Individual disputes, however, are largely governed by local ordinance. In 2015, the Oregon legislature enacted HB 2653, authorizing Oregon State University to develop a set of best practice guidelines for beekeepers, with the intent of promoting beekeeping and avoiding the need for piecemeal or specific bee-related nuisance legislation. Nuisance issues arising from the keeping of bees are handled under existing local nuisance laws.

Municipalities typically recognize a nuisance as that which interferes with a neighbor’s “quiet enjoyment” of their property, but reasonable minds will differ on what meets that standard. One person may be encouraged to see bees buzzing about their yard, while another may be terrified of getting stung. A beekeeper, even in an urban area, will generally be free from claims of nuisance if they can show that they are maintaining their operation in line with accepted beekeeping practices.

Laws Applicable to Residential Beekeeping

Some general legal issues to be aware of when beekeeping in a non-farm area:

  • All beekeepers who manage five or more colonies must register with the state by June 1 of each year.
  • Local governments may have their own registration and fee requirements for bee colonies kept in residential areas.
  • If you’re raising bees for commercial honey production, you may need a license, depending on the size of your operation. Any beekeeper with 21 or more colonies extracting and selling wholesale honey is required to be licensed as a food processor.
  • Homeowner’s Association (HOA) or Landlord Considerations: Your HOA may have specific rules or restrictions on the keeping of bees. If you rent, your landlord has the right to say no to beekeeping on their property.

If you are cited for a violation or nuisance claim, it’s best to work closely with the Oregon State Beekeepers Association (OSBA), as well as with law enforcement, to abate any problem that has occurred. It’s also a good idea to keep good written records of your operation in the event you need to provide documentation that you’re using recommended best practices and due diligence to prevent any nuisance or neighborhood disturbance.

If you’re an urban beekeeper and are faced with a nuisance claim or other citation that you need legal help with, talk to an attorney with experience representing beekeepers on land use issues. For more information, see our overview of land use/zoning laws.

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