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ETJ: Extraterritorial Jurisdiction


All cities have city limit lines; you have seen road signs when you leave one city and enter another on the highway. The notion of city limits is one most are familiar with. Given the well-understood concept of city limits –what the heck is a City’s ETJ?

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word extraterritorial as “existing or taking place outside the territorial limits of a jurisdiction”.

Texas Local Government Code §42.021 states the ETJ is the unincorporated area that is contiguous to the corporate boundaries of the municipality.  Depending on the population of the city, the ETJ can extend as little as a half mile beyond city limits or as much as 5 miles. The smaller the population and the smaller the city, the smaller the ETJ and vice versa.

To keep things interesting, in Texas, both city limits and the area known as the ETJ can change and shift as additional land is annexed into an existing city.  Our firm has written numerous blogs on annexation.

A resident of a municipality living within city limits enjoys the benefits of city services, such as utilities, law enforcement, fire protection, general code enforcement and sometimes zoning. (The lack of zoning in Houston is often a topic of national debate.) Extraterritorial powers then ideally provide a city the ability to regulate conduct and provide services beyond their city limits. Another key issue is the inability to vote in that city’s elections; so despite the extension of powers and possible benefit to those living in the ETJ, residents in the ETJ may not vote in the city elections. Although Texas does not extend voting rights to residents in the ETJ; this is not unconstitutional.  The United States Supreme Court decided in Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, 439 U.S. 60 (1978), granting extraterritorial powers without extending the right to vote does not violate the federal equal protection clause of those living in the ETJ.  On the other hand, municipalities may not levy ad valorem taxes, exercise eminent domain, or zone property in the police jurisdiction. 439 U.S. at 72-73 n.8.

In Texas, state laws explicitly allowing municipal regulation include[1]:

  • Health & Safety Code § 713.009 – Cemeteries
  • Local Government Code Chapter 43 – Annexation
  • Local Government Code § 212.003(a) – Certain Subdivision and Platting Regulations
  • Local Government Code §§ 216.003, 216.902 – Billboards/Signs • Local Government Code § 217.042 – Nuisances Within 5,000 Feet (Home Rule City Only)
  • Local Government Code § 341.903 – Policing City-Owned Property (Home Rule City Only)
  • Local Government Code § 380.001 – Economic Development Programs
  • Local Government Code § 552.001 – Utility System
  • Water Code § 26.177 – Pollution Control and Abatement

This authority can be modified by contract.  In Texas cities with fewer than 1.9 million residents, the City can enter into a development agreement with property owners in the ETJ and the agreement can extend additional municipal authority to the ETJ. Texas Local Government Code §212.172, last revised in 2021, provides this state authority to municipalities to enter a development agreement.

The Texas legislature altered the law on extraterritorial jurisdiction this month by amending §42.103, Texas Local Government Code, effective September 1, 2023, allowing landowners to file a petition to be removed from the ETJ.

Stay tuned for more changing Texas law as the 88th regular legislative session ended May 29, 2023.

Please do not rely on this article as legal advice. We can tell you what the law is, but until we know the facts of your given situation, we cannot provide legal guidance. This website is for informational purposes and not for the purposes of providing legal advice. 

[1] Texas Municipal League Comments on Senate Local Government Interim Charges, 9/13/2022

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