Social Host Ordinance

What is a Social Host?
A social host is someone who illegally allows underage persons to consume alcohol on the host’s property.  This is not necessarily the owner or the person in charge of the property-it could also be the person who organized the event. Social Host Liability is the legal term for the criminal responsibility of a person who allows such illegal activity.

What is the purpose of a Social Host Ordinance?
The ordinance’s purpose is to help stop underage drinking. It is aimed at those persons who allow persons under the legal age to consume alcoholic beverages in or on property they own or control or it can be the person who organized the event. The ordinance is targeted at those who host the gatherings – not necessarily the property owner, parent or adult. A criminal misdemeanor fine would be issued to anyone cited for hosting the event where the alcohol is served to minors. If the person hosting the event is not of legal drinking age, it would mean a juvenile violation.

When did the Marshalltown City Council pass this ordinance?
The Marshalltown City Council passed the Social Host ordinance in September 2011.

Aren’t there already laws and ordinances that prohibit underage drinking?
Before the Social Host Ordinance passed, only the person who actually physically sells or gives the alcohol to the person under legal age could be prosecuted. This ordinance/law addresses enforcement and prosecution problems where persons knowingly permit or allow underage drinkers to have a party on their property, even when the owner didn’t supply the alcohol, and persons, including parents, who knowingly permit or allow their children’ s friends to consume alcohol at their home, even where the parents didn’t supply the alcohol.

How will a Social Host ordinance work?
Police officials receive a disturbance call and respond to the scene. If a party is taking place where minors can be seen drinking alcohol, police can proceed to take action under the Social Host Ordinance.

What happens then?
Law enforcement can stop the party. The host of the party can be fined.

What is the fine?
The charge and penalty is $650. The parent can also be civilly responsible if their child hosted the event and the child is a juvenile.

What does civilly responsible mean?
A civil fine is not considered to be a criminal punishment, because it is primarily sought in order to compensate the city for harm done to it, rather than to punish the wrongful conduct. A civil penalty could be imposed to help reimburse the labor-intensive work and cost involved of controlling the event, keeping minors present and contacting parents/guardians.

The ordinance authorizes a civil fine to adults who know that underage drinking is occurring on their property and either allow it to go on or do nothing to stop it.  Underage drinkers may obtain the alcohol from one person, and then go somewhere else to drink it.  Common examples are parties that take place in rural areas, or the basement of a home of one of the underage drinkers.  Parents have told police that they knew about the party and it was ok with the parents, because the kids weren’t driving and they knew where they were.  Previously, there was no charge that applied to these situations.

Click here to see a copy of the city’s Social Host Ordinance.