Sit-lie ordinance

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In the United States, a sit-lie ordinance (also sometimes referred to as sit-lie law) is a municipal ordinance which prohibits sitting or lying on the sidewalk or in other public spaces.

Proponents argue that such ordinances are useful or necessary in keeping sidewalks free from obstruction, particularly for use by mobility-impaired persons, and that they are a useful tool in fighting undesirable behavior, while opponents argue that they are instead veiled attacks on vagrants and homeless persons,[1] and, further, unnecessary and overbroad.

Sit-lie ordinances are most notably found in West Coast cities, since the 2000s, with Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon, and several San Francisco Bay Area cities – Santa Cruz, Palo Alto, and San Francisco itself – having passed such ordinances.[2]

In a 2009 survey of 235 US cities, 30% prohibited sitting or lying in some public places.[3][4]


In some cases sit-lie ordinances, such as in Portland, are part of a package of reforms, also providing services for vagrants, such as restrooms, benches, and day shelters, and in this context are argued as a tool to ensure that such resources are used.[5]


Critics argue that such ordinances are a criminalization of homelessness, a criminalization of ordinary activities – hence prone to selective enforcement – and unnecessary, since existing, narrowly targeted laws ban the undesirable activities such as aggressive panhandling, obstruction of sidewalks, loitering, and aggressive pursuit.

Certain aspects of some ordinances have been ruled overbroad; Portland's ordinance prohibited having possessions more than two feet from one's person, which was ruled unconstitutional by Judge Michael McShane in 2009, stating that he "found that an ordinary person would not understand from the statute that mundane and everyday behavior would be prohibited by the law," and that "the ordinance encourages arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement."[6]



Portland passed multiple sit-lie and anti-camping ordinances in the 2000s, which have all either been struck down or expired, and as of May 2010 was working on related ordinances that would allow sitting and lying.[7]

Portland's most recent ordinance was enacted in 2007, set to sunset in June 2009. It was subsequently extended by 6 months, but during this extension was ruled unconstitutional by Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Stephen Bushong on June 19, 2009, who found that it was "preempted by state law," because "it prohibits conduct permitted by state law, and that's not permitted under article 11, section two of [the] Oregon Constitution." The police subsequently ceased enforcing it and the law sunset.[8]

San Francisco[edit]

In San Francisco, a sit-lie ordinance was proposed in March 2010 by Mayor Gavin Newsom, but generated strong opposition under the banners of "Sidewalks Are for People" and "Stand Against Sit/Lie". It was placed on the November general election ballot as "Proposition L," and was approved by voters on November 2, 2010.[9] In November 2012, however, voters in nearby Berkeley decided not to make it a crime to sit on sidewalks in the city's commercial districts between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.[10]


  1. ^ Coté, John (May 16, 2010). "Sit/lie deja vu?". The San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ Welch, William M. (March 23, 2010). "Sit-lie laws put spotlight on safety". USA Today. Retrieved March 6, 2013. 
  3. ^ Griffin, Melissa (March 11, 2010). "Revelations about sit-lie". San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, Calif.). Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  4. ^ The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty; The National Coalition for the Homeless (July 2009). Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities. Washington, DC: The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. p. 191. 
  5. ^ Griffin, Melissa (March 4, 2010). "Sit/Lie Law: local history and the portland experience". 
  6. ^ Davis, Matt (February 19, 2009). "Judge Rules Sit/Lie Law Unconstitutional" (WEBLOG). Portland Mercury: Blogtown. Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  7. ^ "Updated: Eight years of sit-lie history". Street Root News (Portland, OR). May 5, 2010. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  8. ^ Davis, Matt (July 2, 2009). "Sit-Lie Dies". Portland Mercury (Portland, OR). Retrieved 2013-03-06. 
  9. ^ Collins, Terry (November 3, 2010), "SF voters approve sit/lie ban on sidewalks", San Francisco Chronicle, archived from the original on 2010-11-05 
  10. ^ Tim Phillips, "Campaign Against Proposed Sit/Lie Law in Berkeley Succeeds", Activist Defense, November 12, 2012.

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