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What is a City Ordinance?

By Charity Delich
Updated May 16, 2024
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A city ordinance is a type of authoritative law, rule, or regulation made by a city government, as opposed to a law made by a state, province, or national government. It is intended to address issues of local concern, and typically applies to people subject to the city’s jurisdiction. Most are enacted by a city council, and they have the equivalent power and force of a statute. When a new city ordinance is enacted, it usually becomes part of the city’s municipal code.

City ordinances generally address issues relating to public health, safety, and welfare, and they can either prohibit or proscribe a certain type of behavior. If a person fails to comply with an ordinance, he or she can be fined. In some cases, an offending person will receive warnings before penalties are assessed. Local police and local district attorneys are usually responsible for enforcing a city ordinance.

Zoning regulations are among the most common types of city ordinances. Cities use zoning to control the layout and development of a city. Essentially, zoning laws set rules about whether a piece of real estate can be used for commercial, residential, recreational, or industrial purposes. For instance, a city ordinance may specify that only single-family homes can be built in a certain part of the city. Other zoning rules may specify that a piece of property can only be used for designated commercial or industrial activities, such as factory operations.

Fire ordinances usually set certain standards of fire safety that residential and commercial property owners must adhere to, like installing smoke detectors. Other ordinances set rules regarding littering, recycling, garbage removal, and parking. A local ordinance may also address treatment of public areas, such as sidewalks, streets, or city parks. In a city park, an ordinance may set the hours that a park is open to the public or indicate that pets must be kept on a leash.

Local law governing housing and rental property is usually spelled out in ordinances. For example, a city ordinance may specify that a landlord is required to maintain a certain amount of heat in an apartment complex during the winter months. Cities also commonly regulate noise levels, and an ordinance may ban loud noises in a residential area after a certain time of the night. A city may use an ordinance to dictate moral issues to some extent, such as setting restrictions on where a gentlemen’s club can set up shop.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon957299 — On Jun 19, 2014

Can a city enforce an ordinance which was passed after I made changes to my property that they didn't like?

By anon931289 — On Feb 07, 2014

Does a city have to inform the people that live in that particular city about all these ordinances? Or at least have a way to look them up?

By anon924063 — On Jan 02, 2014

I was under a private water company for eight years and now a town that I don't live in bought the company and is now charging me an application fee because I am a new customer under their ordinance. Can they do this?

By anon253496 — On Mar 09, 2012

@anon228480: Report it to the security supervisor, or if it's a police officer, notify a supervisor at the police department, even if you do it over the phone. --anonymous officer

By anon228480 — On Nov 08, 2011

An officer who works at my apartment at night goes to everyone's doors and listens into them without the people knowing and the manager won't do anything about it? Do I call the cops on him or what?

By anon161483 — On Mar 20, 2011

how do i get a city ordnance passed in san luis obispo cal, granting access to 911 while in the care and protection of a homeless shelter in emergency?

By anon107722 — On Aug 31, 2010

what if the police don't help enforce city ordinances, such as a garage band. What do i do then? i keep calling. do i need to go to court?

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