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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Moore, Todd
Date of Material: 08/19/1996

Code enforcement
Code enforcement--Dirty lots
Zoning--Laws and regulations

Enforcing Municipal Ordinances Outside the City Limits

Reviewed Date: 04/29/2021
MTAS was asked whether it may enforce its ordinances dealing with tall grass, junk cars, and dangerous buildings within one mile of the city limits.

August 19, 1996
This letter is in response to your question regarding whether the city can enforce its municipal ordinances outside the city limits. Specifically, you want to know whether it may enforce its ordinances dealing with tall grass, junk cars, and dangerous buildings within one mile of the city limits. Under the city charter, the city may enforce ordinances within one (1) mile of the corporate limits, except it may not enforce them within the corporate limits of another municipality. It is my opinion, that this charter provision would be valid as applied to ordinances that clearly involved protection against nuisances or to safeguard the health of the people residing in them.

Article I, Section 5 of the city charter provides in part as follows:

Be it further enacted, that all ordinances, now in force or hereafter enacted, of a moral, criminal, quasi-criminal, sanitary or penal nature shall apply to any and all surrounding territory within one mile of said corporate limits. When the surrounding territory within one mile of the corporate limits encroaches upon the corporate limits of another municipality, a written agreement concerning jurisdiction of police powers shall be secured from the neighboring city setting forth the general police jurisdiction of the City.

As a general rule, municipal police power and ordinances operate only within the municipal area, and the police power of a municipal corporation cannot be exercised outside its boundaries without special authorization. But in the interests of police and fire protection and the preservation of public health, laws may provide that all ordinances of specified cities enacted for these purposes shall apply to the territory outside the city limits within a specified distance of the same in all directions. Municipal Corporations, 6A McQuillin § 24.57. Many states authorize municipalities to exercise governmental powers beyond their corporate limits, however, the extension of governmental authority beyond municipal boundaries has only limited application in Tennessee.

As you mentioned in your letter, the Tennessee Supreme Court held in Malone v. Willliams, 118 Tenn. 390, 103 S.W. 798 (Tenn. 1907) that a charter provisions authorizing the city of Memphis to exercise “all governmental and police powers” for two miles outside the city was unconstitutional. The court in Malone acknowledged that it is within the power of the state to authorize municipal corporations to pass ordinances or laws which have a restricted effect beyond their limits. This is particularly true for ordinances to allow cities to suppress nuisances detrimental to the public health and morals. However, the court stated that there could be “no justification for extending over an outside strip of country two miles in width, . . . all the governmental powers of the city, or even all the police powers of the city.” Malone, 118 Tenn 421.

Your city's charter provision is more limited than the Memphis charter provision in Malone. The ordinance specifically limits the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to ordinances of “a moral, criminal, quasi-criminal, sanitary or penal nature.” The intent of this provision appears to be to allow the city to control nuisances and public health and safety concerns adjoining the city limits. Although I have not reviewed the ordinances specifically, ordinances related to overgrown weeds and vegetation, junk cars and dangerous buildings should meet the condition of addressing public health and safety concerns.

The United States Supreme Court in Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, 439 U.S. 60, 99 S.Ct. 383, 58 L.Ed.2d 292 (1978), upheld an Alabama statute which subjected residents living just outside the city to the city’s police and sanitary regulations, to the criminal jurisdiction of the city’s court, and to the city’s power to license businesses. The Court held that the statute did not violate the Due Process or Equal Protection clauses of the United States Constitution and stated that giving extraterritorial effect to certain municipal ordinances was a rational legislative response to problems faced by growing cities. Although the Court in Holt addressed United States Constitutional provisions, the issues were almost identical to the state constitutional issued raised in Malone. In addition, Tenn. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 83-452 (enclosed), cited Holt in opining that extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction was constitutional as authorized by Tenn. Code Ann. § 13-7-302.

Therefore, considering both Malone and Holt, it is my opinion that your city may enforce its sanitary and public health ordinances within one mile of the city limits under the restricted power of its charter.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Todd Moore
MTAS Legal Consultant