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What Is Municipal Law?

Municipal law is specific to a particular city or county (known legally as a "municipality") and the government bodies within those cities or counties. It covers a wide range of issues, including police power, zoning, education policies, and property taxes.

Municipal law is an overlooked area of law, although it impacts people more than almost every other legal issue. City ordinances and property laws have more effect on the average person than anything done in Washington, D.C.

Some areas of municipal laws that affect your daily life include:

  • Housing and Land Use: The local city or county government handles property taxes, zoning regulations, waste management, and parks and recreation.
  • Law Enforcement: Your city council decides whether your town has a police force, how the municipal court deals with enforcing ordinances, and interaction with state and federal agencies.
  • Education: States certify teachers, but school districts are set by local law. Your local district decides what teachers will teach, how many years of experience they need, and how much money your district will spend on events.
  • Business and Economics: State laws affect how businesses can operate, but your local government decides what businesses it wants in your town.

Terms To Know

  • Bylaws: A set of rules by which a municipality conducts its business. Bylaws govern activities such as meetings, votes, record-keeping, and budgeting.
  • Land Use: Otherwise known as zoning, land use laws govern lawful purposes for real estate.
  • Municipal Charter: A municipality's founding document.
  • Municipal Corporation: The legal structure assigned to a municipality. As a corporation, a municipality can buy and sell property and carry out legal action.
  • Police Power: The legal term for the ability to use police to regulate the behavior of a municipality's residents.
  • Ordinance: The technical term for the "law" issued by a municipality.

Practice Area Notes

Municipal law attorneys provide legal services to municipalities. Attorneys may work as corporate counsel for the cities, meaning the attorney works for that particular city. They may also provide legal assistance to government agencies within the city as needed.

Local city or town councils create most municipal laws. Local residents elect council members, giving them great control over municipal law. Municipal laws vary between cities. When residents move between cities in the same state, they can have issues with these local variances. If you believe you have a municipal law issue, you should get legal advice from a municipal law lawyer in your new town.

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