Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Bee Hives

The Tennessean also reported this morning (it’s a rare day when there are two zoning/codes issues in the morning newspaper) that there is a controversy in spring Hill concerning a beekeeper whose bees are prohibited by the restrictive covenants applicable to the subdivision in which he lives. There is a state statute which governs legislation prohibiting the maintenance or establishment of honeybees in hives. It is pretty interesting, and one that I had not really bumped into before.

It is found in the Tennessee Apiary Act of 1995, Tenn. Code Ann. § 44-15-101 et seq., and specifically at §124, which reads:
No county, municipality, consolidated government, or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt or continue in effect any ordinance or resolution prohibiting the establishment or maintenance of honeybees in hives, provided that such establishment or maintenance is in compliance with this chapter. This section shall not be construed to restrict or otherwise limit the zoning authority of County or municipal governments; provided, however, that a honeybee hive being maintained at a location in compliance with applicable zoning requirements on June 10, 2011, shall not be adversely affected and may be maintained at the same location notwithstanding any subsequent zoning changes.
The second sentence of the statute certainly limits the impact of the first sentence. Basically, a local government can’t adopt legislation prohibiting honeybee hives unless part of the zoning regulation. And probably, that is the most common type of regulation which would be adopted by a local government so the prohibition in the first sentence seems much less powerful when the entire provision is considered.

The issue in the case highlighted by the Tennessean article has to do with homeowners associations and restrictions adopted by those associations. Although there is a debate of some type in the paper about whether an HOA is some type of local government covered by the terms of the statute, clearly homeowners associations are not local governments. As a result, while the statutory provision which doesn’t offer much protection from local governments anyway, it offers none in the case of restrictive covenants adopted by HOAs.

Furthermore, isn’t that the way we would like our neighborhoods to operate? In effect restrictive covenants are rules adopted by all of the homeowners living in a given area prohibiting conduct which those homeowners find inappropriate in their neighborhood. The regulations aren't adopted by any government, they are adopted by the homeowners themselves, or by the developer who establishes the neighborhood in the first instance. They can be changed by action of the homeowners however at any time. Should local neighborhoods be able to make those kinds of decisions? It would certainly seem so.

One would think that the homeowner would check the restrictions and in this case, the property owner indicated that he knew of the restriction:
When I put the bees in, I knew it probably would be against the covenant, but I knew it was going to be a safe situation and if it wasn’t, I was going to remove them. I was bending the rules, but it’s not like I was raising vicious pit bulls in my backyard. I wasn’t doing anything I felt was unsafe. 
So, he did know and chose to go ahead anyway. The point is that if it disturbs others in the neighborhood, wouldn't it be better somewhere else?

In any event, this case seems to be headed for the courthouse and we’ll see what the local judge has to say about the statute and its applicability to local homeowner regulations sometime in the future.

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