Legal Basics

Legal Basics: Answers to some basic questions you are too afraid to ask (but you really want to know) – San Francisco Bay edition


Here’s the basics about law and the legal system in the Los Angeles area. For even more basics, see our Law Basics: California and Law Basics: United States. For much, much more, get the new Law Soup book, called Law is Not for Lawyers (It’s for Everyone)!

What laws apply to me?

For most of the actions you take, your physical location at the time you take the action determines which laws have “jurisdiction” over you. In addition to federal and state laws, each city has its own laws, so it’s important to know which city you are in at any particular time.

How do I find out whether I am within the official boundaries of a particular city?

Figuring out what city you are in (and thus which laws apply) is not always so easy. For more on this, see our What City Am I In?

What are my local laws?

Local laws are generally passed by a city council or county board of supervisors. They are called ordinances, and they are compiled into a “municipal code.” For example, the San Francisco Municipal Code contains the laws for the city of San Francisco. You can find the municipal codes for select bay area cities here.

Within the San Francisco Codes are the following sub-codes:

Administrative Code
Business and Tax Regulations Code
Campaign and Governmental Conduct Code
Environment Code
Fire Code
Health Code
Municipal Elections Code
Park Code
Planning Code (including Zoning Maps)
Police Code
Port Code
Public Works Code
Subdivision Code
Transportation Code

For answers to the following questions, see Law Basics: United States

If I happen to break a law that I wasn’t aware of, can’t I just claim I didn’t know about it and get off the hook?

Can a law be illegal?

If there is no law against something, is it legal?

What happens if federal, state, or local laws conflict?

Further Resources

For much, much more, get the new Law Soup book, called Law is Not for Lawyers (It’s for Everyone)!

For more specific legal information, check out our Legal Guides.

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