Open House Parties:
When is an Open House Party Illegal?

Traditionally, an open house party has referred to a party or social gathering that is scheduled for a period of hours, sometimes for an entire day, with no set time of arrival or departure. Guests do not typically stay for the entire period of the open house party.

Open house parties are also sometimes used by real estate agents as a marketing strategy to sell houses and other real estate by attracting many potential buyers to view the property easily and within a fairly short period of time.

More recently, open house parties often refer to parties within a house primarily at which young persons, often under the age of 21, drink alcohol and might also take illegal drugs. The popularity of such open house parties and the resulting problems that they sometimes cause has led some states to pass legislation specifically outlawing them.

For example, Florida statutes, chapter 856 defines an illegal open house party in the following way:

No person having control of any residence shall allow an open house party to take place at said residence if any alcoholic beverage or drug is possessed or consumed at said residence by any minor where the person knows that an alcoholic beverage or drug is in the possession of or being consumed by a minor at said residence and where the person fails to take reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of the alcoholic beverage or drug.

A violations is punishable as a second degree misdemeanor.

Similarly, the Alabama Code - Section 13A-11-10.1: Open House Parties states that

No adult having control of any residence, who has authorized an open house party at the residence and is in attendance at the party, shall allow the open house party to continue if all of the following occur:

(1) Alcoholic beverages or controlled substances are illegally possessed or illegally consumed at the residence by a person under the age of 21.

(2) The adult knows that an alcoholic beverage or controlled substance is in the illegal possession of or is being illegally consumed by a person under the age of 21 at the residence.

(3) The adult fails to take reasonable action to prevent illegal possession or illegal consumption of the alcoholic beverage or controlled substance. (Alabama defines “reasonable action” as “ejecting a person from a residence or requesting law enforcement officials to eject a person from a residence.” Ironically, the law requires that potentially intoxicated persons be ejected, thereby promoting intoxicated driving or riding with intoxicated drivers.)

A violation of the open house party statute is a Class B misdemeanor.

In California, there is no law that makes it illegal for a person under the age of 21 to consume alcoholic beverages or to have alcoholic beverages in a private place (that is, in a place not open to the public). Therefore, there has been a move to outlaw open house parties in that state. (Interagency Steering Committee. http://www.icoe.k12.ca.us/ISC/Underage+Drinking.htm)

An ordinance of the city of Frankenmuth, Michigan, prohibits open house parties:

No adult having control of any residence shall knowingly allow an open house party to take place at said residence if any alcoholic beverage or drug is possessed or consumed at said residence by any minor where the adult failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the possession or consumption of the alcoholic beverage or drug at said residence.

The ordinance defines an adult as "a person 17 years of age or older” and a minor as “a person not legally permitted by reason of age to possess alcoholic beverages” (that is, under age 21). So apparently a person can be both and adult and a minor simultaneously in Frankenmuth.

The ordinance also grants an exception to the prohibition of open house parties by permitting the consumption of alcohol by minors in the presence of their parents or legal guardians “or a person placed in the position of a parent by such parent or legal guardian.” This suggests that parents can legally host an open house party for their own minors and those of other parents or legal guardians who grant them permission to act in loco parentis (in place of the parents).

Such a provision would be highly desirable because parents could legally host open house parties in which they could monitor drinking to ensure safe consumption levels and protect the health and safety of the partygoers.

There is strong evidence that this would be a valuable harm reduction technique and would reduce alcohol abuse by young people.

 

Note: This website does not provide any legal opinion or advice and none should be inferred. Always consult a qualified attorney in your jurisdiction for legal opinion and advice.

Sources:
  • Alabama Code. Section 13A-11-10.1: Open House Parties; City of Frankenmuth, Michigan. General Code. Chapter 126. Open House Parties; Florida Code. Chapter 856. Drunkenness; Open House Parties; Loitering; Prowling; Desertion.
Readings on Open House Parties:
  • Florida House of Representatives. HB 595 - Open House Parties. (Proposed legislation that would provide that a person who violates open house party statute second or subsequent time commits misdemeanor of first degree; provides that a person commits misdemeanor of first degree if violation of open house party statute causes serious bodily injury or death of minor; provides criminal penalties.)
  • Food and Wine. Open house party. http://www.foodandwine.com/articles/open-house-party
  • Open House Parties sans Kids ‘n Play. http://www.charlesandhudson.com/archives/2008/05/open-house-parties-sans-kid-n-play.htm
  • Prior, Richard. Lawyer: Santarelli overcharged: with no felony on books for “open parties,” legislators vote on tougher laws for adults. St. Augustine Record, April 23, 2010.
  • Wise Geek. What is an open house party? http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-an-open-house-party.htm