An excellent question, and one that remains a bit in limbo. Low profile is probably in order, just not in my own personal genetics.
Here is how the law reads, with all due homage to the City Bees blog:
District of Columbia Municipal Regulations
Title 24 - Public Space and Safety (December 1996)
904.1 No bees or hives of bees shall be permitted to be kept when there are human habitations within a radius of five hundred feet (500ft.).
904.2 The provisions of this section shall not apply to bees confined in hives, or to bees kept on property that is enclosed so that the bees cannot stray from the property.
SOURCE: Article 16, §14 of the Police Regulations (May 1981)
Currently, DC has interpreted these conditions as problematic -- the first section says no hives, the second says hives are ok. I would agree with anyone who was concerned that the interpretation of this law could go either way, especially in the case of a public complaint. Most interpret 904.1 to describe feral hives that have taken up an unwelcome residence.
Most jurisdictions that ban beekeeping just say "beekeeping is not allowed within city limits:" they don't create fanciful or impossible requirements. There must be a very odd story behind this law.
By the way, the second part of 904.2 is actually impossible, and an attempt to comply with its terms would violate DC zoning laws.
At this point in time, I have made inquiries of both DCRA and Animal Control, and have reached out directly to the Office of the Mayor and the City Council. All consider the law to be flawed at best. One DC apiary was the subject of a complaint to the Health Department last year (the agency which is charged with enforcing Public Health and Safety laws) and, after visiting the site did not assess a fine or order that the beehives be removed.
This means that beekeeping in DC is in an ambiguous, unprotected legal environment. In an era where local foods, including those from community gardens, and greener lifestyles are growing in popularity and political importance, many of us would like to move the ball into stronger, clearer language that provides real-world guidelines for responsible urban apiculture. We have begun working with elected officials to learn how to accomplish this goal.
In the meantime, the Department of Parks and Rec is teaching courses on beekeeping, another suggestion that beekeeping is explicitly legal, but with the understanding that the law is open for interpretation. Screening the hive so that others won’t easily see it is an option. Note too that there are many federal buildings, including the USDA, that have active hives on their roofs.