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 supported 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 begging, 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. After repeated legal challenges, the police ceased enforcing it and the law's sunset clause expired.[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]

Based on the sit/lie ordinance, infractions peaked at 1,011 in 2013, but since that time they have steadily declined, falling to 114 in 2017, while misdemeanors tracked by SFPD spiked at 195 in 2016, then similarly declined by almost half the next year. SFPD's current policy focuses on steering homeless people to shelters, rather than arresting them (which is basically giving the suspect a ticket and a court date).[10]


In November 2012, voters in 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. [11]


In Honolulu, a sit-lie ordinance was signed into law in December 2014 by Mayor Kirk Caldwell. The initial ordinance applied to a number of pedestrian malls in the downtown and Chinatown neighborhoods and contains and except for "people who are experiencing medical emergencies, engaged in expressive activity, working in maintenance or construction, or waiting in line unless their possessions impede the flow of pedestrian traffic."[12] An extension to the sit-lie ban was vetoed later by Caldwell on May 21, 2015.[13] One 2015 study by graduate students at the University of Hawaii Department of Urban and Regional Planning surveyed 70 homeless individuals. Of the 70 interviewed, 54% reported having identification documents confiscated by the state. This would require them to pay a $200 retrieval fee unless they were able to obtain a fee waiver. The study authors concluded that the ordinance had little effect on homelessness.[14]

In 2017, as part of a city campaign to clear city sidewalks of homeless encampments, Mayor Caldwell signed an expansion of the sit-lie ordinance to an additional 13 areas of Honolulu County (Oahu).[15][16]

See also[edit]


  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". Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  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 November 5, 2010
  10. ^ The Scanner: SF police have backed off controversial ‘sit/lie’ citations - sfchronicle
  11. ^ Tim Phillips, "Campaign Against Proposed Sit/Lie Law in Berkeley Succeeds", Activist Defense, November 12, 2012.
  12. ^ "Mayor signs pedestrian mall sit-lie ban into law". KHON2. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  13. ^ Remadna, Brent; Garcia, Nestor; Staff, Web. "Honolulu mayor vetoes sit-lie ban expansion". KHON2. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  14. ^ "University of Hawaii study finds Honolulu's sit-lie ban ineffective". Pacific Business News. Retrieved 2015-12-11.
  15. ^ FULL LIST: Sit-lie law includes 15 Oahu communities, Hawaii News Now (August 21, 2017).
  16. ^ Jayna Omaye, Caldwell enacts law pushing sit-lie ban to additional areas, Honolulu Star-Advertiser (May 12, 2017).

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