Wisconsin's "Social Host" Law

Highlights of the Law                                                                                         

The new law makes it illegal to provide a location for underage drinking.  It applies to:

·      Adults (age 18 and older)

·      Who “knowingly permit” or “fail to take action to prevent” underage drinking

·      On property the adult owns andoccupies OR

·      Occupied by the adult andunder their control

Including hotel/motel rooms, bed & breakfasts, cabins/cottages rented by tourists, and campgrounds the adult has paid for or provided “security” for.[i]Violations carry a $500 forfeiture for a first offense. Like driving under the influence, the first offense is not a crime.[ii]Subsequent offenses within a certain time period can also include imprisonment – ranging from up to 30 days to up to 9 months. 

Exemptions:  The following exemptions remain, meaning these things are legal:

·      Alcohol provided as part of a religious service;[iii]and 

·      Alcohol served to underage persons accompanied by their parent, guardian, or spouse of legal drinking age[iv]

Interpreting the Law: Different in Counties and Cities Across our State

Every new law requires interpretation to be implemented; different interpretations are common as jurisdictions adopt approaches to implementation that are tailored to the specific needs of their community.   Also, interpretations can change over time as situations faced by law enforcement change.  

For example, how municipalities determine an adult “failed to take action to prevent”underage drinking could differ.  Some communities may decide that failing to secure alcohol already on the property is failing to prevent underage drinking while other municipalities may adopt a different standard. The phrase “knowingly permit” is also open to interpretation. 

 In some parts of Wisconsin, the terms “occupy”and “control”could suggest the adult must be in the structure where underage drinking occurs while in less populated parts of the state, outbuildings, barns or even docks could be considered under the adult’s control.  These are issues the police and local prosecutors will work through in the coming months, and the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project will track these.


How the State Law Works Locally

Most Wisconsin municipalities have adopted Wisconsin Statute Chapter 125i(the portion of state law regulating alcohol) into their local ordinances, a step permitted so that offenses can be prosecuted as ordinance violations in municipal court. This step has no impact on the legality or illegality of any act, if the State makes something illegal, it is illegal throughout the state.  What changes is whether the violation is charged as a state violation in Circuit (County) Court or city or town ordinance violation in municipal court.


[i]106.52 (d)“Lodging establishment" means any of the following: 

1.A bed and breakfast establishment, as defined ins. 97.01 (1g)

2.A hotel, as defined ins. 97.01 (7)

3.A tourist rooming house, as defined ins. 97.01 (15k)

4.A campground. 

[ii]Wis. Stat. 939.12. Crimedefined.A crimeis conduct which is prohibited by state law and punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. Conduct punishable only by a forfeiture is not a crime

[iii]Wis. Stat. 125.07(a)3. This subdivision does not apply to alcohol beverages used exclusively as part of a religious service.

[iv]Wis. Stat. 125.07(a)1.  No person may procure for, sell, dispense or give away any alcohol beverages to any underage person not accompanied by his or her parent, guardian or spouse who has attained the legal drinking age.

[v]Cnty. of Fond Du Lac v. Muche, 2016 WI App 84, 372 Wis. 2d 403, 888 N.W.2d 12.