The Sheriff's Department aims to provide you the highest quality of public safety service. Part of this mission is keeping your children safe. We are committed to preventing underage drinking and saving lives. We want to raise awareness of this critical issue by providing information on this page about the risks of underage drinking and social host laws in the County of San Diego.

State law prohibits minors under age 21 from purchasing, possessing or consuming alcohol, yet a report from the American Medical Association finds:

  • 2 out of 3 teens said it was easy to get alcohol
  • 1 in 3 said it was easy to get alcohol from their own consenting parents
  • 2 out of 5 said it was easy to get alcohol from a friend’s parents
  • 1 in 4 said they’d attended a party where youth under-21 were drinking in front of parents

A study from the American Medical Association also shows underage drinking is a factor in nearly half of all teen car crashes which is the leading cause of death among teenagers. Well-meaning parents often host drinking parties on behalf of their children, but these gatherings can quickly spiral out of control. Hosting at home doesn't change the facts or lessen the dangers of:

  • Alcohol poisonings
  • Brain damage
  • Chronic alcohol addiction
  • Car crashes
  • Property damage
  • Community disturbance
  • Risky sexual behavior and sexual assault
  • Fighting
  • Accidental injuries due to falls or poor judgment

A "Social Host" is anyone who knowingly hosts underage drinking parties on property that they own, lease or otherwise control. Social Host Ordinance assigns responsibility to those who knew or should have known a drinking party was occurring on their property.

Anyone hosting a party is required to:

  • Verify the age of guests
  • Control access to alcohol to those under 21
  • Supervise minors

Anyone allowing minors (under 21) to drink alcohol will be held accountable and may be:

  • Cited/arrested
  • Fined up to $1,000 or more
  • Serve up to 6 months in jail
  • Billed for law enforcement services

Report underage drinking parties to:
Sheriff's Department (858) 565-5200
Crime Stoppers Anonymous Tip Line (888) 580-8477


What is a Social Host Ordinance?
It’s a law that makes it illegal to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol.

The social host ordinance does not make it against the law to furnish alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. THAT’S ALREADY ILLEGAL. The ordinance makes it illegal to provide an environment where underage drinking takes place, regardless of who provides the alcohol.

What is a “Social Host?”
In San Diego County’s ordinance, a “Social Host” refers to a person(s) who knowingly allows the possession or consumption of alcohol by underage drinkers on their private property.

Social Host Ordinances San Diego County Can a “Social Host?” be under the age of 21?
Yes. Eighteen – to 21-year olds can be held liable as a “social host.”

How is “private property” defined in the San Diego County Social Host Ordinance?
Private property has been defined as “any privately owned land or building of the unincorporated area of the County and includes vacant land as well as residential, commercial, business or farm property.”

If I host a party where alcohol is served how can I avoid breaking the law?
It’s simple. Don’t allow minors to drink alcohol.

A host must take “reasonable steps” to prevent consumption of alcohol by anyone under the age of 21. Those steps include:

  • Control Access – keep alcohol away from minors at your party
  • Control Quantity – Don’t buy so much you lose track of who has what
  • Verify Age – You have a responsibility to know how old everyone is at your party
  • Supervise –You MUST supervise the activities of minors in attendance and ensure they’re NOT drinking.

If the social host fails to take reasonable steps to prevent alcohol possession or consumption by the underage person or persons on property they control, they could be found in violation of the ordinance.

What happens if I find underage drinkers at a party I’m hosting?
If you discover that underage people are drinking at your party, ask them to stop. If they refuse, you may have to call the Sheriff’s Department. You are not in violation of the ordinance if you ask for help from them immediately.

Can a parent be criminally charged if the parent allows their child to consume alcohol in the privacy of their own home?
A parent cannot be charged under the San Diego County Social Host Ordinance if, in their presence, they allow their underage child to consume alcohol in their residence. However, allowing someone else’s child to consume alcohol in your home would be illegal.

How are social host ordinances enforced? What are the penalties?
When local Sheriff’s personnel respond to an event where underage persons are gathering, and through the normal course of an investigation they’re able to determine underage alcohol possession or consumption exists, the individual host of the social event can be issued a citation and charged with violating the County’s social host ordinance.

A social host does not have to be 21 years of age to be in violation of the law. Social host violations carry a fine of $1,000 on the first offense. Second and subsequent violations carry a fine of $2,000 or up to 32 hours of community service or up to 6 months in jail. You may also be held liable for injuries sustained by third parties as a result of the minor guest’s negligence. A social host can also be liable for the cost of responding law enforcement services.

Will I be held criminally responsible if my child hosts a party at my home where underage drinking takes place without my knowledge?
Parents may not be held responsible if they did not know about the party.

However, under California State law, they could be held responsible civilly for their child’s actions.

Why should I care about social host ordinances?
Alcohol is the drug of choice for youth, causing more harm and death for youth than all illegal drugs, combined. There are also serious second hand effects of underage drinking, endangering public health, safety and quality of life.

The San Diego County Social Host Ordinance can help reduce alcohol harm, crimes and costs attributed to underage drinking.

Can law enforcement enter my house without permission?
he County’s Social Host Ordinance does not increase law enforcement’s ability to enter someone’s home or property. The State of California allows law enforcement to enter a private residence without a search warrant when they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred.

How many individuals can receive a citation for each gathering?
One or more hosts can be cited for the unlawful party if there is evidence of multiple hosts.

Will the citations go to the property or the individual host?
The individual host(s).

How is the San Diego County Social Host Ordinance different than laws that already exist?
Under current laws it is illegal to furnish alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. However, in a party setting, it is often difficult or impossible to identify who provided the alcohol. Therefore, the San Diego County Social Host Ordinance assigns responsibility to those who knew or should have known that party was occurring on their property involving underage drinking.

Why does this ordinance target parties that occur on private residences and premises?
Parties and gatherings on private property have repeatedly been identified as the primary source by which youth obtain alcohol. Kids obtain alcohol at parties through friends, older siblings or adults.

If I go away on vacation and my child hosts an underage drinking party, am I responsible?
Under the San Diego County Social Host Ordinance, adults are not responsible for hosting the party if they are not at home and youth hold a drinking party without their knowledge. A teen or other person in control of the house could be cited for hosting the party in addition to possessing alcohol.

This law doesn’t change existing civil liability—adults can be held liable for injuries or other consequences that occur regardless of whether they are present or not.

What if I’m upstairs sleeping and my child sneaks booze into the house, am I responsible?
Adults who knowingly allow underage alcohol use on their private property will be held responsible. If an adult is not aware that an underage person brought alcohol onto the property or if the underage person is concealing the alcohol, that adult will not be held responsible.

The Sheriff’s Department must establish probable cause by determining that a person knew or should have known that underage drinking was occurring on the premises.

What if underage drinkers are trespassing on my property?
The provisions of this ordinance shall not apply in the case of a party or gathering consisting entirely of persons trespassing on the premise or residence.

If all kids are going to drink anyway, isn’t it better to “take the keys” and provide them a safe environment?
No. Driving drunk is not the only negative outcome of underage drinking. Drinking parties often involve binge drinking (5 or more drinks on one occasion) which greatly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning, accidents and injury, motor vehicle crashes, mixing alcohol with other drugs, violence, sexual abuse and the practice of unsafe and unprotected sex.

If my child is arrested and found guilty, will this go on his/her permanent record?
TAnyone over the age of 18 found guilty of being a social host will face charges that will go on their criminal record.