This is a topic that's been brewing in my mind for a while, and it's a really important topic, because I'm a huge advocate for urban beekeeping. It's also a huge topic and this'll be a long post, so grab a cuppa.
Lots of people like the idea of urban beekeeping and think keeping a hive in their backyard is no big deal. With the advent of a global bee die-off and things like the flow hive, many people who thought it might be fun to keep bees are actually taking the jump... only to find a lot of resistance from their local council and neighbours.
Something that didn't occur to me until I started beekeeping is that if you live on an typical urban plot you have five neighbours: one on either side, and three in the back. Arguably everyone on your street is also a neighbour, but I'm pretty sure it's the "fence neighbours" that need immediate consideration.
I'm a good urban beekeeper, in the sense that I'm approachable and all my neighbours know I have some hives in my backyard. I told them all that I kept bees. One of my neighbours is severely allergic to bees, but I've stood next to a hive with him. He's cool with what I'm doing, and he wishes more people did it. One of my neighbours has kids who have never been stung. They really like the idea of urban beekeeping too (they have backyard chickens) but they don't want the hives anywhere near their fence-line, because kids, a trampoline, and bees don't mix well, and they don't want to find out how their kids react to bee stings. And one of my neighbours doesn't fall into either of these categories, but hates bees.
This last category of person isn't unique, and I try hard not to take offence at their offence. Everyone has their thing, and I'd rather be the guy who people think of calling when they need help, and not the guy people think of as the problem that needs council called on to 'deal with'. Right now if someone calls council about problem bees, they call me, or one of the other local beekeepers, who then call me.
On the one hand I want to be totally compliant with the law. On the other hand, I want 50 hives in my backyard because I love bees. On the other hand, I don't want a state inspector to have to drive five hours to tell me off, because even though I'm on good terms with him right now, I doubt he'd be in a good mood at the end of the trip, and my business plan doesn't include fines. On the other hand, I hate people telling me what I have to do, and that there's only one way to do it. If the state inspector ever did turn up, you better believe I'd offer him a cold mead and a free bed.
So what do my local laws say? South Australia is interesting. There in an over-arching "Australian Honeybee Industry Biosecurity Code of Practice", but it doesn't mention anything about keeping bees in an urban environment, or even maximum number of hives in a given space, and a fellow beekeeper just pointed out to me that the national law is a draft. But state laws take precedence over national laws, of course, so maybe there's something there. There was once an "Apiaries Act of 1931" that got repealed by the "Livestock Act 1997", amended by the "Livestock Act 2013". While there's some scary stuff in there about the powers of a state inspector (my father, a veterinarian in Canada, assures me that it's actually pretty standard), and very, very specific laws regarding frames in hives, there's nothing in there about minimum distance from a fence or number of hives on a property. There isn't a published local bylaw on the Mt Gambier website regarding bees or hives, the Public Works department said they'd call me back but never did, and the local PIRSA office referred me to the state inspector, who confirmed that there isn't a specific spacing law (he also let me know that top bar hives are ok, as long as good management practices are observed and the frames can be removed). So it turns out that by the letter of the law I can keep as many hives in my backyard as I want, fences be damned. But you know what? I'm moving my hives away from the fence, and I'm not moving more into the yard.
Some beekeepers will advise you to just tell off your neighbours that don't like bees, but that attitude doesn't get you anywhere in my experience. There's a rift between neighbours in most western cultures that needs fixing. If and when times get tough, you should be able to turn to your neighbours for help. You should be able to swap baby clothes with them, invite them to your BBQ, and trade honey for eggs across a fence. Being an urban beekeeper may be seen as trailblazing in our culture, but that's only because we live in a world where we don't know where our food comes from. I think the best way to rectify that is to make friends, maybe especially with the ones that don't like bees. But you have to be delicate about it.
If you're going to keep bees in your backyard, first research the laws, and then make sure you locate your hives in such a way that the law is on your side. Keep them out of sight, and make sure the bees have to fly up over a tree, large hedge, or big wall so that their flight paths are less noticeable. Don't let them swarm - take care of your bees. Love them. If you just have bees but don't pay attention to them, you're not a beekeeper... you're a person with feral bees in a box. At best you'll be contributing to swarms that may go down neighbours chimneys; at worst you might be facilitating spread of notifiable diseases. My first year as a beekeeper I didn't take all of my own advice, had to get a swarm off the neighbour's trampoline, and now I'm in the position of having to move my hives out of (or around) my backyard.
Should you advise your neighbours that you are keeping bees? Yes, but I'd put in a qualifier. If you tell your neighbours that you're thinking about doing it, I'll bet 1 in 5 of them will say "oh god, bees, no way". So first, get the bees, but put them in a place in your yard where no-one will notice them unless they're standing next to the hive. Then find out which of your neighbours thinks beekeeping is a great idea, and reinforce that idea. I'm not saying you should be deceptive, but I am saying you should be tactical. Get emotional support before facing someone who doesn't like bees.