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Vacant, Abandoned, and Distressed Property Legal Research Guide: Local Laws

The focus of this guide is the search for local land use laws relevant to vacant, abandoned, and distressed properties. This research guide includes links to primary and secondary sources.

Local Laws

Local laws, also known as municipal laws or ordinances, are laws enacted by municipal governments. Unfortunately, there is no single database that you can search for all local laws in the US. There are several publishers of municipal codes, and often, municipalities will contract with a specific publisher to publish the print and online versions of their codes.  You will have to adjust your research strategies accordingly:

  • If you know the name of a municipality that has enacted a relevant ordinance, you can usually start by searching the code for that municipality. Most municipalities will link directly to the online version of their own codes from their own websites. 
  • If you are starting your search with a type of ordinance in mind, rather than knowing of a particular municipality that has enacted this type of law, then you will have to start by searching one of the code databases.  There are a few databases which allow you to search across multiple codes at the same time, but most of the databases require that you search the codes on an individual basis. 
    • If you are looking for a particular type of ordinance, you may find that starting your research in secondary sources (looking for news articles, blogs, or websites which collect best practices for a particular type of land use or issue) may be a more efficient way to start your research.  Once you identify a municipality, you can the follow up with research in that municipality's online code.