disorderly house

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Disorderly House

A place where individuals reside or which they frequent for purposes that pose a threat to public health, morals, convenience, or safety, and that may create a public Nuisance. A disorderly house is an all-inclusive term that may be used to describe such places as a house of prostitution, an illegal gambling casino, or a site where drugs are constantly bought and sold. It is any place where unlawful practices are habitually carried on by the public.

Various offenses concerning disorderly houses exist at Common Law and under criminal statutes. The maintenance of a disorderly house is considered to be an ongoing offense and, at times, the offense involves a specific type of place, such as a bordello or Gaming house. The offenses are divided into four classes, which encompass keeping or maintaining a disorderly house, letting a house to be used as a disorderly house, frequenting or abiding permanently in a disorderly house, and disguising a disorderly house by displaying a sign of an honest occupation—such as disguising a house of prostitution as a dress shop.


In most jurisdictions, the maintenance of a disorderly house is an offense and, in order to be valid, each statute must clearly state the nature of the offense. Ordinarily, most statutes merely define the common-law offense rather than create a new statute. In states with statutes that provide for the punishment of an offense but do not define what a disorderly house is, the common law is examined to determine what the definition should be. In contrast, where the statute embodies a characterization of the house as well as prohibited conduct therein, the statute itself determines what constitutes the offense.

The prohibition against disorderly houses and the offenses they encompass are valid exercises of the Police Power of the state.


The elements of the offense of maintaining a disorderly house depend on statutory provisions that vary from state to state. A place may be named a disorderly house if alcohol is sold on the premises and if the law in that jurisdiction prohibits such sale. Essential to all offenses involving disorderly houses is the character of the house.

House or Other Building or Place The commission of the offense is dependent upon the presence of a house or place of public resort, the physical characteristics of which are immaterial. A disorderly house may be any place, including a room in a building or a steamship, an apartment, a garden, or a space under the grandstand at the racetrack.

The character of the place as a public resort is important. The general rule is that a disorderly house must be a place to which the general public or a segment of the public retreats for immoral purposes without prior invitation. A disorderly house may be used for other purposes that are not prohibited by law in addition to immoral purposes, but this in no way affects its classification as a disorderly house.

Annoyance or Injury to the Public The annoyance to the general public, as opposed to anyone in particular, is an essential element of the definition of a disorderly house. This annoyance or injury is based on the fact that activities being conducted are considered detrimental to public morals, welfare, and safety. They need not disturb the peace and quiet of a neighborhood to be construed as disorderly. A house where drugs are sold quietly or where a bordello is discreetly operated would be considered an endangerment to the public peace.

Persons Liable

The liability of those concerned in offenses in connection with disorderly houses is not based upon their civil or contractual status. Some statutes specify who may be liable and in such cases, only those designated may be prosecuted. Partners, servants, and agents as well as the officers of a corporation have all been held liable for the operation of disorderly houses and the various offenses committed on the premises.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

disorderly house

n. 1) polite term for house of prostitution. 2) place of illegal gambling.

Copyright © 1981-2005 by Gerald N. Hill and Kathleen T. Hill. All Right reserved.

disorderly house

a polite legal term for a brothel.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

DISORDERLY HOUSE, crim. law. A house, the inmates of which believe so badly as to become a nuisance to the neighborhood.
     2. The keeper of such house may be indicted for keeping a public nuisance. Hardr. 344; Hawk. b. 1, c. 78, s. 1 and 2 Bac. Ab. Inns, A; 1 Russ. on Cr. 298; 1 Wheel. C. C. 290; 1 Serg. & Rawle, 342; 2 Serg. & Rawle, 298; Bac. Ab. Nuisances, A; 4 Chit. BI.. Com. 167, 8, note. The husband must be joined with the wife in an indictment to suppress a disorderly house. Justice's Case, Law 16; 1 Shaw, 146. Vide Bawdy house; Ill fame.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Nicola Bell, 40, had denied keeping a disorderly house and the charge was withdrawn and a not guilty verdict recorded at Newcastle Crown Court.
This is the 1780 Sunday Observance Act, signed by George III, which proclaims that an establishment open to the public for dancing is a "disorderly house".
Prosecutions for keeping a disorderly house were relatively easy to obtain but the fines imposed were no deterrent.
In early 1983 Mrs Kasir was convicted with her husband nning a Haroon Kasir of running disorderly house.
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``This is about getting through to management that they can't run a disorderly house without facing some immediate sanctions.
The couple who ran the Elm, Carole g ur and a and Harry Kashir, were arrested along with the teenage masseur and charged with keeping a disorderly house.
With the injunction and abatement acts, anti-vice reformers sought to recast disorderly house keeping as a civil offense.
Alexa Fencher, 19, of 11 Lambert Circle, Worcester, charged with being a person under 21 in possession of alcohol, admitted to sufficient facts, continued without a finding 3 months, fined $50; keeping a noisy and disorderly house, dismissed; resisting arrest, admitted to sufficient facts, continued without a finding 3 months; assault and battery with dangerous weapon (door), admitted to sufficient facts, continued without a finding 3 months.
Owners Harry and Carole Kasir were convicted in 1983 for possessing obscene videos and keeping and Carole a disorderly house. Carole died in 1990 in circumstances that are looking increasingly suspicious.
At Smethwick, yesterday, Sarah Chatwin (48) and Mary Ann Smith (27) of Green Street, Smethwick, were sent to gaol for three months with hard labour for keeping a disorderly house.
Owners Harry and Carole Kasir were convicted in 1983 for possessing obscene videos and keeping a disorderly house. Carole died in 1990 in circumstances that are looking increasingly suspicious.