How to Prevent an Event from Requiring a Permit
If you need to ask for a permit, your activity could be denied. Fortunately, many types of events do not require a permit. Most private events, for example, don't require a permit.
If in doubt as to whether the event is public or private, it is important to know that applying for a permit means that you are agreeing that the event is public. Permits are an open invitation to inspectors who can show up at any time, whether they are health inspectors, safety inspectors or law enforcement. It may be best to organize the event in a way to prevent the event from requiring a permit in the first place.
How to Prevent Your Event from Needing a Permit
- Do not charge admission to the event. Charging admission for an event indicates that it is public, not private.
- Do not advertise the event, barring private invitations on social networks. Private gatherings are small or involve groups with known membership. You can minimize the risk of a large group crashing the event by handing out printed invitations.
- Don't post the event on a public website where everyone can read the information and show up whether you want it or not.
- Selling alcohol almost always requires a permit. Giving it away for free is a grayer area, unless you are giving away the alcohol to guests in your home. As long as everyone is over 21, freely sharing drinks is safe as long as you take steps to prevent people from going home drunk or bringing in friends you don't know.
- Try to hold the event at a location that is clearly private. For example, a party at a private home is private until someone requests admission fees, making it a business.
- Send invitations to those who will be invited and clearly reserve the right to remove those who do not have an invitation.
- Require permission before invitees can bring additional family and friends.This gives you extra leeway if you want to refuse someone entry.
- Maintain control of the event by removing those who violate the rules or who should not be there in the first place. Homeowners who let anyone who shows up inside the premises may be making the event public while losing the discretion as to the character of those entering. By maintaining control over entry, denying entry to those who are not invited and removing those without permission to be present, homeowners gain an upper hand in any liability suits because they tried to control event. Homeowners who act as gatekeepers retain the right to call the police to remove those who were asked to leave but did not go.
- If the event is held in a public venue such as a rented room at the library or banquet hall, place a sign at the entry that indicates who is holding the event and that it is private. This allows the event organizer to prevent curious onlookers or "grazers" who wander public areas in search of free food. The "private" sign allows organizers to remove those who are taking food meant for others or may steal items present at the event.
- Keep the event right-sized to the venue. If the gathering is in a private home, two or three dozen people are a likely limit. If you want several hundred people together, aim for a church hall. If the event creates overcrowding, you may be told to disperse or move the event to somewhere with enough space for everyone.
- If in doubt as to whether a permit is required, as an attorney, not City Hall. The city administration’s default answer is yes, please fill out a permit and pay us.
- Keep the activities legal. No drugs, no alcohol for minors, no nudity visible to others. When neighbors suspect illegal activities, it is their right to call the authorities.
- Document when the event was held, the type of event, number of people in attendance and the event's duration in case there are later challenges to your right to have held the event.
- Be careful with the frequency of events. If you have a garage sale every other weekend, it starts to become a nuisance. If you host large parties every weekend, it may bother neighbors. If you are holding barbecues every week, it may be mistaken for a restaurant. Mix the types of events that you hold and don't hold them every weekend to avoid running afoul of the law.
- If the size of the gathering may be large enough to require a permit, consider moving the event to a rented venue like a meeting hall. That location already has permits for large gatherings.
- If you have items to sell, sell them online or drop them off at a consignment shop instead of holding a garage sale. Many jurisdictions require a permit to hold a garage sale today.