Q&A: Is a City Ordinance a Law?

  • By: Tara Astbury
  • January 30, 2024

The municipality where you live likely has ordinances, and you may find yourself wondering if an ordinance is similar to a law. The simple answer is yes. An ordinance is a type of law, rule, or regulation enacted by a local government

When city council members draft a law, it becomes an ordinance, as opposed to a law made by a state or national government. Keep reading for a deeper look at what a city ordinance is and why they matter.

What is a City Ordinance?

An ordinance is a law created by a local government, such as a city council or county board of supervisors. Ordinances address a variety of local matters not already covered by state or federal law, such as issues pertaining to public health and safety, zoning, fire and safety regulations, housing standards, and parking regulations. 

Cities and local municipalities are able to pass ordinances on matters the state government allows to be regulated at the local level. Once an ordinance passes, it carries the state’s authority. 

Ordinances are often considered the most authoritative form of action taken by a city council, and they are usually drafted with the help of other officials such as the city administrator or city manager. Once passed, ordinances are included in a collection of laws referred to as city or municipal code. City ordinances only apply locally to people subject to the city or county’s jurisdiction.    

Why Are City Ordinances Important?

City ordinances play an important role in local government by helping to ensure public health and safety. City officials, such as the city council, the city clerk, and the city administrator, work together to determine what ordinances may need to be enacted to preserve the quality of life for residents. While cities may create ordinances related to a wide range of issues, such as snow removal, littering, and public health, the most common city ordinances pertain to:

  • Zoning: Cities use zoning laws to control the layout and development of land in the city. Zoning laws determine whether a piece of land in the city can be used for commercial, residential, recreational, or industrial purposes. 
  • Fire ordinances: These laws set certain standards for fire safety that residential and commercial property owners must adhere to, like installing smoke detectors.
  • Housing laws: City ordinances may also be used to spell out laws relating to housing and rental properties. For instance, a city ordinance may require that a landlord provide a certain amount of heat to an apartment complex during the winter and provide a timeline for how quickly landlords need to repair their tenant’s heating when it goes out.        

What Are Some Basic Components of a City Ordinance?

How a city ordinance is structured depends on the policies in a specific city or county. However, most city ordinances include a few basic components, such as a preamble, summary, and articles outlining the provisions of the ordinance. Each article will include specific sections stating what the ordinance does, how it is to be enforced, and any punishments/fines someone may face for not abiding by the ordinance (if applicable).  

Is a City Ordinance a Law?

A city ordinance is a type of law that covers a wide range of issues including zoning regulations, parking rules, noise restrictions, and more. An ordinance is legally binding and enforceable only within the jurisdiction of the local municipality or city. 

If a person fails to comply with a city ordinance, they may face fines or other charges. Local police and district attorneys are usually responsible for enforcing city ordinances. 

eScribe Powers Effective City Councils

To ensure public health and safety, city councils need to create ordinances to address issues of local concern. Access to the latest technology enables city councils to perform their jobs more effectively, from setting standard city council meeting procedures to  collaborating with other government officials and drafting ordinances. 

With the help of eScribe, a meeting management platform designed for the public sector,  city councils streamline and automate complex processes to improve efficiency and better meet the needs of their constituents. Additionally, eScribe pricing plans are designed to meet the needs of various municipalities, from small towns to large counties, while allowing them to easily scale. 

Some of eScribe’s features city councils find the most valuable include:

  • Meeting Manager: Provides customizable templates for meeting agendas, minutes, and action lists. This can help streamline the process of scheduling, organizing, and hosting meetings, helping boost efficiency. 
  • Meeting Minutes: Simplifies the process of creating minutes and sending them out to participants, ensuring accuracy and improving transparency. 
  • Reporting and Workflows: Empowers users to better manage deadlines, track statuses, and handle reports with ease. 
  • Collaboration Tools: With more people working and attending council meetings remotely, city governments need the right tools to help them facilitate remote collaboration. eScribe provides various collaboration tools, such as vote manager, video streaming, public comments, and an integrated actions log, simplifying collaboration and boosting transparency. 

Investing in eScribe can help city councils hold more efficient meetings and maintain compliance. 

To learn more about how eScribe helps power effective city councils, check out  the City of Greensboro Case Study.