Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Disorderly House Definition:

A place where acts prohibited by statute are habitually indulged in or permitted.

Related Terms: Bawdy House

As keeping a disorderly house is a common law offence, knowing what is and what is not a disorderly house is key. Traditionally, as Mozley and Whiteley write in their law dictionary, the premises aimed at by the common law offence of a keeping a disorderly house was:

".. a bawdy house or a brothel, the keeping of which was always an offence at common law."

But, with time, the definition expanded to capture other premises which housed illegal activity such as gambling or illegal drug or alcohol distribution.

The 2011 edition of Canada's Criminal Code, at §197, defines a disorderly house as:

"Disorderly house means a common bawdy-house, a common betting house or a common gaming house."

In Los Robles, Justice Pierce of the California Court of Appeals adopted these words:

"A house is disorderly if kept as a place where acts prohibited by statute are habitually indulged in or permitted.... (A) disorderly house is one where acts are performed which tend to corrupt morals of the community or promote breaches of peace."

In State v Elliott, Justice Alcorn of the Supreme Court of Connecticut used these words to define a disorderly house:

"... a house the inmates of which behave so badly as to become a nuisance to the neighborhood."

In Flannery v City of Norfolk, Justice Compton of the Supreme Court of Virguinia accepted and incorporated this definition of a disorderly house:

"... premises upon which activity occurred that either created a public disturbance or, although concealed from the public, constituted a nuisance per se, such as a gambling house or bawdy house....

"Any reasonably intelligent person would know that masturbation of males by undressed females, in a place open to the public, and acts of oral sodomy and solicitation therefor in such a place would have a prejudicial effect on morality of the community. Such acts meet the judicial definition of disorderly house."


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