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Municipal Codes: A Beginner's Guide

A research guide regarding where to find local laws, such as ordinances, bylaws, measures, or municipal codes.

Introduction

Although we are likely more frequently asked about federal laws here at the Law Library of Congress, we do receive quite a number of reference requests concerning state and local law.  Of these non-federal requests, some of the more challenging questions deal with laws found in municipal codes.  This challenge arises largely from the difficulty in finding copies of municipal codes for our patrons, as there is no one singular clearinghouse for all municipal codes.  We hope that this Beginner’s Guide can help those patrons performing research regarding municipal ordinances to more easily sort through the resources available, and find the information they need.

A note before we begin—to make sure we are clear about what we mean when we say “municipal codes,” we are referring to the collection of laws passed by a local governing body (often of a county, city, village, township, or other similar governmental subdivision).  The laws themselves can be referred to by many names, including “ordinance,” “bylaw,” and “measure,” among others.  As long as they do not conflict with the laws of the state in which the municipality is located, these ordinances have the “force and effect of law” in the municipality. [1]

Interior, city council, 1st floor - Schenectady City Hall, 100 Jay Street, Schenectady, Schenectady County, NY
Interior, city council, 1st floor - Schenectady City Hall, 100 Jay Street, Schenectady, Schenectady County, NY. 1933. Historic American Buildings Survey. Prints and Photographs Division.

[1] Norman J. Singer and J.D. Shambie Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction (also known as Sutherland’s Statutory Construction).  Although this resource does not focus particularly on municipal ordinances, it offers a very helpful chapter on the topic.