Counties and municipalities are the primary forms of local government in North Carolina (sometimes called cities, towns, or villages). The North Carolina Constitution grants the General Assembly the authority to create, abolish, and govern cities, counties, and other local governments as the General Assembly sees fit. This exclusive authority to empower local governments may take either of two forms: general laws that apply across the state or local acts (sometimes called special acts) that apply to particular counties or municipalities.
To learn more about the North Carolina General Assembly's role in county and municipal law, review Chapter 160A, "Cities and Towns," of the General Statutes of North Carolina. Note that other laws affecting municipalities are sprinkled throughout the General Statutes of North Carolina.
North Carolina municipalities are created by incorporation with a grant of charter by the General Assembly. In conducting legal research, it may be necessary to find a municipal charter. The best way to locate a charter is to search North Carolina session laws to find the relevant session law incorporating a locale. Search terms like “incorporate,” “incorporation,” and “charter” are likely to be useful in locating municipal charters in session laws.
The best way to locate a charter is to search through the North Carolina session laws to find the law that incorporated a locale. Using terms like "incorporate," "incorporation," and "charter" are likely to be useful in locating municipal charters in the session laws. The following resources can be used to search through the North Carolina session laws online:
The UNC Libraries also hold some municipal charters, scattered among the various libraries. Search the catalog to find the precise location for these charters on the UNC campus.
Municipal ordinances are all laws passed by a local governing body, usually a county, city, village, township, etc. The laws themselves can be referred to by many names, including "ordinance," "code," or "bylaw." These local laws carry the full force and effect of law in the municipality, as long as they do not conflict with the laws of the state in which the municipality is located.
Many local governments publish their municipal codes through online publishers. These publishers usually provide access to municipal ordinances for free via their websites.
The following is a list of the major online local law publishers:
Some North Carolina counties and towns publish their ordinances on their own websites. A list of county websites can be found through the UNC School of Government. The School of Government also provides a list of North Carolina city, town, and village websites.
Lexis+: Lexis+ provides access to municipal codes for towns and cities in most states. has municipal codes for towns and counties in most states. Because municipal codes are updated on a sporadic basis, be sure to note the last time a particular ordinance was updated.
Historically, individual counties or municipalities printed their own municipal codes. These codes were printed sporadically, and it is difficult to confirm the publication schedule for any specific municipality. Both the law library and Wilson Library hold print copies of historical municipal ordinances for many North Carolina counties, along with some local ordinances from other states. The majority of the items in this colletion date from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. If you are looking for a specific county or city, run a search in the UNC Libraries catalog for the county's name with the words "code" or "ordinance" included in the search.
If you would like to review the law library's print collection of historical municipal codes, please feel free to stop by the reference desk. The reference librarians can direct you to the location of these materials on the first floor. We can also confirm whether a specific municipal code is in our print collections.
Secondary sources are not themselves the law, but they can help researchers to understand the law and how various different laws relate to one another. Secondary sources that focus on municipal law focus both on the procedural process of local lawmaking and also provide insight into particular topics/areas that are typically the focus of local law.
The following sections outline various different types of secondary sources that can support municipal law research.
Local government associations, typically national groups comprised of members of local governments, are excellent resources for tracking trends and larger issues in local government law. These associations are also often the source for draft language for updated municipal ordinances.
The treatises and other legal practice materials in this section provide a variety of useful information for the municipal law researcher. In addition to providing in depth overviews of municipal law topics, these resources also identify related interpretive case law and provide access to useful forms and other practice materials.