Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of Municipal Regulations

regulatory compliance

Local laws can affect your business. Here are some common ones.

Federal, state and local politicians excel at creating new laws, particularly those targeted at the corporate sector. Consequently, the regulatory compliance environment rarely remains unchanged for any length of time. While federal and state laws typically receive a great deal of attention in the trade and business press, municipal or county laws, which govern activity within a city or county, fail to generate such coverage. However, municipal law presents unique compliance challenges that organizations cannot ignore.

Know Your Local Laws

Here are some examples of the types of municipal laws that cover business activity.

1. Zoning

Municipalities typically decide the purpose a geographical area within their jurisdiction will support. For example, not allowing land near a hospital to house a factory. This helps ensure the separation of residential, commercial and industrial buildings as a means of protecting the public's health and safety.

2. Business Licenses

Many cities require that businesses operating within its borders maintain a business license. Cities sometimes assess a business license tax fee, based on the organization's gross revenues. In addition to general business licenses, cities also require licenses for specific types of commerce such as businesses that sell alcohol.

3. Noise Ordinances

In order to prevent noise pollution, municipalities create ordinances that limit noise emissions during certain periods of the day, and within specific sound ranges. As an example, municipal noise ordinances might limit construction within residential areas, and prohibit any construction on Sundays as well as on certain holidays.

Use Resources to Stay Informed

Similar to the variations found across state laws, municipal law varies by city and county. Thankfully, a number of free online resources exist that provide information on municipal law. While The Law Library of Congress serves as a resource for federal law, a section of their site house links to databases of municipal codes. Municode, in particular, provides access to a vast, searchable database, with nationwide coverage of municipal laws, including Alaska and Hawaii.

In addition to using databases that house municipal codes, most municipalities operate websites that detail their laws. However, bear in mind that local governments can sometimes struggle to update their websites to reflect changes in laws in a timely manner.

Consider setting up Google Alerts to monitor for changes to municipal laws and their enforcement in the jurisdictions your organizations operates. Experiment with the keywords, starting with the names of the municipal laws that exist currently, as well as the more general search terms. Over time, you'll gain a sense of keywords that provide the most relevant articles and websites.

Finally, consider engaging a local attorney with experience interpreting and applying municipal laws. Their knowledge of local politicians, coupled with experience helping businesses comply with local laws and regulations, can prove invaluable — especially if they help uncover a gap in your existing regulatory compliance efforts that could invite scrutiny.

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