St. Paul looks to crack down on underage drinking

The St. Paul City Council is considering an ordinance that would hold adults responsible for hosting parties with underage drinkers.

by Eric Nehring

The St. Paul City Council is considering adopting a social host ordinance that would make it a misdemeanor for adults to knowingly provide a venue for underage drinking . As of now, Minnesota law makes it illegal to serve alcohol to minors, and individuals can be held civilly liable, said Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley , who was instrumental in passing that law. Only the Legislature can pass state-wide laws holding people civilly liable or giving major penalties, Betzold said. But cities can pass their own ordinances that only apply to the boundaries of the city. Betzold said the Legislature would consider passing a state-wide law similar to the proposed ordinance if it became a problem across the state. âÄúIf there are any shortcomings in the law, the Legislature would deal with them so that we could make it apply [state-wide],âÄù Betzold said. Members of the St. Paul City Council did not return calls for comment. Chaska was the first city in Minnesota to pass a social host ordinance in 2007. Chaska City Administrator Matt Podhradsky said it was incidents where adults had not only purchased alcohol for minors, but were hosting or were aware of parties being hosted at their residence that pushed the city to pass the ordinance. The breaking point came when an 18-year-old man froze to death in February 2007 after getting kicked out of a Chaska house party where he had been drinking. âÄúI think itâÄôs something every city has to look at for themselves and ask if it is a major priority,âÄù Podhradsky said. St. Paul differs from suburbs like Chaska because of the number of students who rent properties from landlords. The question of how and if owners and landlords could be held responsible adds a concern to the issue. According to the text of the proposed ordinance, it would apply to both the owner and the tenant of a property, as long as they are hosting a party or know of underage drinking on the premises. âÄúIt is an interesting dynamic, and itâÄôs something that we donâÄôt deal with in Chaska âĦ but they would have to knowingly be providing a venue for the people,âÄù Podhradsky said. âÄúIf they were acting responsibly and someone had a party anyways, [I suspect] it wouldnâÄôt fall under the processes of the ordinance.âÄù Aleta Leske and her husband own and lease a rental property in St. Paul. Leske said her tenants range from college students and graduates to young professionals and couples, and she said she feels responsible landlords shouldnâÄôt be held liable for drinking on rented properties. âÄúI have no control over what someone chooses to do or not do,âÄù she said. âÄúThe only things I have control over are issues with the conditions of the property, or whether they paid their rent or not. From our point of view, we try to stay out of our tenantâÄôs lives. ItâÄôs a business deal, itâÄôs not a personal thing.âÄù Landlords canâÄôt be responsible for everything their tenants do, Leske said. âÄúCollege students are just trying to live their lives and get the college experience, but they have to be responsible too,âÄù she said. So far, about 20 cities in Minnesota have implemented social host ordinances, and 32 states nationwide have adopted a type of social host liability law.