Rules, Rules, Rules

One of the functions of government is to establish laws and other rules to govern and regulate how people treat themselves, others, and their property. All levels of government enact laws on many different topics. Obviously, the Federal government enacts laws that potentially impact the entire country, typically on a more broad scale. In addition to these laws, there is also a comprehensive series of administration regulations that accompany the laws essentially to fill in the blanks and provide specific detail where the law, itself, is vague or general.

At the State level, the State Legislature and the State Senate enact statutes which are also laws that govern and regulate issues within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Similar to the Federal government, there are also administrative codes or regulations that are then promulgated to be read in conjunction with these statutes. The Codes provide specifics as it relates to the statutes that are enacted.

Finally, municipalities, which include cities, townships, and boroughs, also enact laws to govern residents of their municipalities, which are typically known as ordinances. These municipal ordinances regulate and impact each of our lives on a daily basis, potentially far greater than laws or statutes enacted by Federal or State government. By enacting ordinances, local governments play a key role in all of our lives. It is typically more common for urban municipalities to have more ordinances and rules than those municipalities that are rural in nature. However, given the problems faced by all communities, more and more municipalities have found the need to enact ordinances to address concerns of their residents.

Under municipal Codes, there are specific enumerated topics which can be the subject of ordinances imposed by local governments. In addition to these specific items, local municipal governments are permitted to enact ordinances to safeguard the health, safety and general welfare of the community.

Many of these ordinances we understand and take for granted. For example, zoning ordinances govern how individuals can use their property. If you want to build a shed, install a swimming pool, or start a home-based business, local government ordinances control the placement of the structure, the size of the structure, the location of the structure in relation to your neighbor’s property and what uses are permitted in the Zoning District in which you reside.

In addition, zoning Codes can dictate the amount of impervious coverage you are permitted on your property, which include decks or patios, along with requirements for green area or open space preservation.

In some municipalities, local governments create historic architectural districts. These are site-specific districts whereby ordinances are enacted to regulate and control the external appearance of buildings deemed to be historical in nature. Not all municipalities have HARB Districts, but regulations and ordinances for HARB Districts can be very specific and detail-oriented. Many times before undertaking improvements to their homes, homeowners must submit an application and the local Historic Architectural Review Board must review and approve any proposed changes.

There are also many municipalities that enact ordinances that regulate property maintenance. Such property maintenance ordinances can regulate the height of your grass and when mowing is required, limitation on outside storage on one’s property, requirements to timely remove snow from your sidewalk, and regulations that control or govern the external appearance of your home or business.

Municipal ordinances can also regulate people’s conduct. There are many ordinances that restrict or regulate open burning of items on property, regulations that relate to levels of noise and the creation of dust and odors, the establishment of curfews as they relate to juveniles as well as adults, and the regulation of animals that we would consider pets. These are just a few areas in which local ordinances can govern and control our lives.

Routinely, new ordinances are created to address problems that a municipality might be having when they find that none of the existing ordinances are effective to control that particular problem. Although members of the community are presumed to know the ordinances of a municipality, that is not always the case. However, many times municipalities will provide individuals with notice of perceived violations prior to taking any enforcement action.

Obviously, through the use of ordinances, local governments can significantly influence our way of life on a daily basis. In a future article we will examine some very unusual regulations that have been imposed by municipalities to address community concerns.