Let’s Party! Should an Association Host the Shindig?

Summer in Minnesota just screams barbeques, pool parties and, of course, National Night Out/Night to Unit gatherings.  For some, such events are shared with a few friends,  For others, they are shared with the entire neighborhood.  Regardless, everyone wants to be a good host.  But what does that mean when the association is the host?

Who pays for the event when the association is the host?

Is it appropriate to use association funds to reserve a space at a local park, or to pay for the sawhorses to block the streets?  Yes, as long as the charges were included in the budget and are not excessive.

Should the association arrange for (and pay for) entertainment?

For those of you who know me, you know my favorite answer:  It depends.  A balloon-animal-making clown?  That’s reasonable.  A 10-piece live band?  That’s probably beyond reasonable.  A stand-up comedian?  The cost might be reasonable, but content can pose problems, and the board may not know the content is inappropriate until it’s too late.

While it may be desirable to make an association-sponsored event the one no one wants to miss, the association’s board must also be good stewards of owners’ money.  The glitter-ball-dropping New Year’s Eve party is probably not the best use of funds for an association that desperately needs to replace landscaping or siding.

Should the association provide the food?  What about food allergies?

Providing burgers, chips and sparkling water is a reasonable expense for the association’s contribution to National Night Out/Night to Unite.  DQ treats?  Absolutely reasonable.[1] A chocolate—or champagne–fountain? Probably not.

Shrimp cocktail?  Definitely not—but not just because of the cost.  If the association provides food that is unsafe to eat, the association may expose itself to liability should someone have a bad reaction to something they ate at the gathering.  If the association is providing food, the board must take reasonable precautions to ensure hot foods stay hot and cold foods stay cold.  Foods should also be labeled, with specific ingredients, so that those with food allergies can enjoy the event without unknowingly ingesting allergens.

Is it okay if the National Night Out/Night to Unite event is a potluck? Does it pose any risk for the association?

Encouraging community members to share dishes is fine, as long as the same precautions are followed to ensure foods stay at the proper temperature and allergens are disclosed.

Community members sharing foods can also bridge cultural divides. Sharing baklava, rice  kheer (Indian rice pudding), gulab jamun (Indian milk doughnuts), Argentinian alfajores (sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche) or naan gerdooee (Persian walnut cookies) can be a great way to learn about neighbors’ traditions—and that sweets are delicious all over the world!

Should it be a BYOB party, or can the association provide alcoholic beverages?

I would not recommend that an association provide alcohol at the association’s expense.  Those who do not partake may see the expense as a frivolous use of association funds.  If the association is providing the alcohol—which I would not recommend, regardless of who pays for it—the Board has some homework to do in advance of the event:

  • Check with the association’s insurance agent to determine the extent of the association’s liability insurance coverage with respect to the selling or serving of alcohol at association-sponsored events, and obtain additional coverage if required. Such coverage may be available on a single-event basis.
  • Check applicable state, city, or county statutes and ordinances to determine if the association or any caterers or other vendors are required to have a special event permit or other permit for vendors to sell or serve alcohol at the association-sponsored event.
  • Have a committee of people monitoring the crowd throughout the event to:
    • identify anyone who appears to have had too much to drink and assist them in getting home safely; and
    • look for and dispose of cups, bottles, or cans containing alcoholic beverages that may be left sitting unattended or in trash cans or other places within easy reach of minors.
  • Have a plan in place for ensuring those 21 years of age are not served and do not have access to alcohol. Ideally, use a caterer or other vendor with its own liquor license.  That vendor would be responsible for serving underage people.
  • Always have non-alcoholic options available.

Even if the association is not providing alcohol, having designated monitors is still prudent, especially if attendees will be providing their own alcohol.

Everyone wants events to be pleasant and enjoyable.  No one wants anyone to get hurt or to hurt others.  Taking steps to ensure responsible use of alcohol is critical to a pleasant experience for all.

Can/should the association charge for community events?

It depends. If the association plans an event that may appeal to a specific portion of the community or is an event of higher cost than might be reasonable for the association to cover, charging a fee to help cover costs is appropriate.  For example, some associations do host holiday and New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Those who wish to attend pay a fee to attend.  That fee covers catering, alcohol, security, cleaning crews, etc.  Most associations are nonprofit corporations, so cannot charge fees with the intent to make money.  Some associations charge a fee, with all profits going to a designated charity.

Who knew planning a party could get so complicated?  For summer gatherings in particular, keep it simple, pleasant and inviting.  Set a budget and stick to it, no matter how tempting those Waygu burgers may be.  Encourage all owners and residents to attend.  Neighbors who know each other tend to be better neighbors, which is better for everyone.

Please Note: The information in this article is provided solely as general information and not as legal advice. Neither receiving nor implementing this information establishes an attorney-client relationship. Readers are urged to speak with a qualified attorney focusing on community association law when making decisions regarding a specific legal issue.


[1] Full disclaimer.  I am a big fan of DQ, which may influence my opinion.