By , on July 11th, 2011

Beekeeping and Homeowners Insurance

The following is a true story…

Consider the case of Bernie the beekeeper (name changed upon request).

Bernie lives in an urban area with neighbors on all sides. When he started beekeeping about 5 years ago, he asked the city if there were any ordinances against beekeeping. Turns out there were not, but there was a general “nuisance” ordinance which would come into play if there was a complaint. So following the city’s advice Bernie made the rounds to his neighbors explaining his intent. The neighbors were OK with the idea and the occasional jar of honey Bernie gave out certainly did not hurt his public relations. Neighbors taken care of, Bernie assumed that his homeowners insurance would cover any serious liability issue that might arise.

Bernie attended the 2011 Michigan Beekeepers’ Association spring conference, but missed the class discussing homeowner’s insurance and beekeeping. Bernie was interested, however, and began asking a few questions to other beekeepers about their experiences with insurance companies and beekeeping. What he heard was not pretty.

If you start asking the same questions to beekeepers that you know, it will not be hard to find someone who has had their coverage canceled because they keep bees. The lucky ones had their policies canceled before there was a claim; those not so fortunate found out after the fact that their beekeeping gave the insurance company the opportunity to weasel out of paying up.

So Bernie asked his insurance agent if his homeowner’s policy covered issues involving bees. Mind you that Bernie had been with this major name company for over 40 years and was comfortable with them. What he heard back was a mealy-mouth non answer. Bernie, however, pressed the issue with his agent.

Finally, here is what Bernie was told (more or less)… If there is a claim involving bees, then the company would “investigate the matter and decide if he was covered.” That’s a mighty big “if”. What the insurance company was saying is that they would decide whether or not he was in good hands but only after there was an issue. It was not the answer that Bernie wanted to hear.

Keep in mind that insurance companies are businesses out to make money; they are not charities. Money arrives in the form of premiums and goes out in the form of claim payments. These outfits have rooms full of people who are paid to minimize the money going out. If it is not a named peril in the policy or is a grey area, who do you think will win the argument?

Forget about what you “think” is covered. Forget about advertising, which is intended to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling but does not mean squat when it comes to those denizens in the company’s back room. It all boils down to what is in – and is not in – the policy.  Remember that a good rule of thumb is that the BIG print giveth and the small print taketh away.  And insurance policies are basically all small print.

When was the last time you read your insurance policy (the contract) to try and figure out if your beekeeping is covered? We thought so.

So Bernie started to shop around. A beekeeping buddy of Bernie’s (which happened to be me), told him of a similar experience. In my case, the local agent called and announced that it was time for a “policy review”. When the agent came out and saw the beehives it was like looking at a deer in head lights; sort of this blank uncomprehending stare. And I even told this agent about 6 years earlier that I was keeping bees. I was given only a few weeks before I was (in my opinion ungraciously) dropped. I definitely felt that this company was not like a good neighbor and it was made quite clear that they would not be there when the going got tough. I had been with this company for over 30 years.

I got this same deer-eyed stare when I talked to several other local agents and mentioned my beekeeping activity. I live out in the country and finally ended up with a local agent of a large, well know insurance company that seemed to specialize in farm policies. With this outfit, the only issue was a 15-year old roof that needed some work; bees where not an issue. So I went with them, transferred all of our policies to this company and fixed the roof (which lowered the premiums).

Bernie listened to my story and started talking to my agent. Shortly thereafter, he gave the boot to his insurance company (after 40 years of business) and switched all his policies to the new company.

Bernie was hard-nosed and insisted that he get in writing that his beekeeping was covered which, I understand, he got. That was a good move. If your agent will not put it in writing, then don’t assume your beekeeping will be covered. Remember, the insurance company will be hard-nosed with you and you have every right to be equally hard-nosed with them. So get it right and get it in writing.

So ends Bernie’s story. The moral is that you should not assume your beekeeping is a covered activity. You need to ask – and get it in writing – beforehand. Don’t be shy or take the “don’t ask don’t tell” approach. Remember that roomful of hard-nosed sob’s at the insurance company who are paid to say “no”? That is not the answer you want to hear from your insurance company after a Philadelphia lawyer shows up at your front door with a law suit in hand. It is your money and you have the right to know what you are buying with your insurance policy.

Bee smart. Bee proactive. Bee protected.




4 comments to Beekeeping and Homeowners Insurance

  • Julie Voelker

    Can you please let me know what company you moved to. I, too, have a “good neighbor” insurance company and am looking to start keeping hives soon. I am shocked to know that this can be a problem with my insurance co. but want to be proactive.
    Julie Voelker

  • Stephen Tilmann

    I would check out some outfits that are comfortable with farm estate policies… such as Farm Bureau.

  • Richard Mendel

    Steve, Very appropriate subject. After the fire is not a good time to ask if you have fire insurance. It’s the little things we take for granted that can have the biggest impact when they finally decide to surface. Sort of like the 100 yr flood and your not sure if you are at the end of the 99th year. Thanks

  • April Morris

    Before we got bees, I checked with two insurance companies, both of whom I had a homeowners policy with in the past. Both told me that as long as I did not sell honey from my home, there would not be a problem. However, if I wanted to sell honey from my home, one company told me that I would need a rider to my policy, the other company told me that they would not be able to insure me. If have opted to sell honey off of our property. My agent was here for a home and property inspection two years ago and saw our 7 hives and did not voice any concerns.

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