Ordinance Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Ordinance, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Ordinance?

A law passed by a municipal government of a city, town, village to establish rules and regulations affecting people or areas of a specific locality.

History and Meaning of Ordinance

An ordinance is a type of law adopted by a local government. Local governments typically pass ordinances to regulate activities within their jurisdiction, such as land use, zoning, building and safety codes, fire codes, and other matters that affect the local community. The process for adopting an ordinance follows a similar process to other types of legislation, with local government officials presenting the proposed ordinance at a public meeting, allowing for public comment, and ultimately voting on whether to adopt the proposed ordinance.

The term "ordinance" comes from the Latin word "ordinare," meaning "to order or arrange," and has been used in the legal context for centuries. In the United States, the concept of local self-government has long been used to govern communities through the adoption of ordinances, dating back to the early colonial period. Over time, courts have established rules and limitations on the power of local governments to adopt ordinances, finding that ordinances must be reasonable, not arbitrary, and must not impinge on protected rights.

Examples of Ordinance

  1. An ordinance passed by a city council that sets restrictions on the use of fireworks within city limits, including the times of day when fireworks can be used and the types of fireworks that are allowed.

  2. An ordinance passed by a county board of supervisors that establishes zoning regulations for land use, to ensure that different types of land use (such as residential, commercial, or industrial) are properly separated and managed within the community.

  3. An ordinance passed by a town council that establishes a curfew for minors, requiring that anyone under the age of 18 be off the streets and out of public places during certain hours to reduce crime and protect public safety.

Legal Terms Similar to Ordinance

  1. Statute - a type of law that is created by a legislative body, such as a state or federal government, rather than a local government.

  2. Regulation - a rule or directive issued by a government agency, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

  3. Resolution - a formal statement or declaration adopted by a legislative body, often used to express the body's opinion on a matter or to enact a specific policy.