Municipal governments—cities, counties, towns, villages, and townships— have no inherent powers. They derive all their powers from state government. As authorized and enabled by state statutes, they are the primary regulators of land use, through zoning ordinances and housing and building codes. They often administer more specialized ordinances as well, for purposes such as historical and landmark preservation and aesthetic regulation.
Early ordinances controlled nuisances, such as stables, slaughterhouses, and pool halls, and promoted fire safety. By the 1920s, municipalities were enacting comprehensive zoning laws, regulating land use throughout the city. Comprehensive zoning laws regulate all uses within a zone, not just those that may be nuisances. Zoning ordinances impose restrictions on buildings other than use restrictions. The most common such other restrictions relate to height, bulk, area, and exterior design of structures.