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What is Municipal Law?

Definition of Municipal Law

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

Terms to Know

  • Bylaws: A set of rules by which a municipality conducts its business. Bylaws tend to govern activities such as meetings, votes, record taking, and budgeting.
  • Land Use: Otherwise known as zoning, land use laws govern the purposes for which land may be used.
  • Municipal Charter: A municipality's founding document.
  • Municipal Corporation: The legal structure assigned to a municipality which allows it to buy and sell property, and sue or be sued.
  • 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

Most attorneys who handle municipal law cases are hired by the municipalities themselves. The attorneys may even work as corporate counsel for the cities, which means that the attorney works for that particular city exclusively.

Local city or town councils are primarily responsible for creating municipal law. Since council members are elected from the town's residents, local residents have great control over municipal law, which can vary greatly between municipalities. If you believe you have a municipal law issue, be sure to consult an attorney familiar with the ordinances in your area.

Related Practice Areas

  • Land Use Laws: Municipalities are largely responsible to setting land use policy.
  • Real Estate: Property taxes and zoning issues, which affect real estate cases, are set by municipalities.
  • Small Business: Many municipalities require small businesses to file local business licenses, and zoning laws can affect where and how small businesses operate.
  • Taxes: Property taxes are usually set by a municipal taxing authority, and the city council often decides what the municipality uses those taxes for.
  • Education Law: The local board of education is responsible for setting a large portion of education policy.
  • Civil Rights: Local police, who must abide by federal civil rights laws, are employed by municipalities. The municipalities typically pay any damages resulting from civil rights abuses at the hands of police.
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