Employees FAQ 13

Are municipal residency ordinances valid?

No. Although the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of municipal residency requirements (McCarthy v. Philadelphia Civil Service Commission, 424 U.S. 645 (1976)), Wisconsin law prohibits municipalities from imposing residency requirements on municipal employees. With limited exceptions, Wisconsin Statute § 66.0502, created by the legislature as part of the 2013-2015 biennial state budget and effective July 2, 2013, prohibits local governmental units from requiring, as a condition of employment, that any employee or prospective employee reside within any jurisdictional limits. Additionally, § 66.0502 invalidates and makes unenforceable any local residency requirements in effect on July 2, 2013. Section 66.0502 does not affect state laws requiring residency within the jurisdictional limits of any local governmental unit, or state and local laws requiring Wisconsin residency.

Section 66.0502(4)(b) allows a local governmental unit to require that law enforcement, fire, or emergency personnel reside within 15 miles of the local government’s jurisdictional boundaries. Subsection (4)(c) allows counties to require that law enforcement, fire or emergency personnel reside within 15 miles of the city, village, or town to which the personnel are assigned. The law does not define what constitutes “emergency” personnel. Residency requirements imposed under § 66.0502(4)(b) and (c) do not apply to any volunteer law enforcement, fire, or emergency personnel who are employees of a local governmental unit.

When the law was initially created, we believed that existing charter ordinances imposing residency requirements remained valid as exercises of constitutional home rule authority, which allows municipalities to enact laws governing their “local affairs and government.” However, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the City of Milwaukee’s longstanding charter ordinance requiring city employees to reside in the city was no longer enforceable following the legislature's enactment of Wis. Stat. § 66.0502. Section 66.0502(1) declares that public employee residency requirements are “a matter of statewide concern.” In Black v. City of Milwaukee, 2016 WI 47, 369 Wis. 2d 272, the Court held that although a city or village may use home rule authority to create a law that deals with its local affairs, the legislature has the power to statutorily override the city's or village's law if the state statute touches upon a matter of statewide concern or if the state statute uniformly affects every city or village. The Court held that as long as a statute, on its face, uniformly affects cities or villages throughout the State, the home rule amendment's uniformity requirement is satisfied. The Court concluded that although residency requirements are a "mixed bag," meaning they are both of statewide and local concern, even when treated as a local concern the city's charter ordinance was trumped by § 66.0502 which is facially uniform in that it applies to any city, village, town, county or school district.

(rev. 7/19)