Licensing Laws & Requirements
Alcoholic beverage licensing in Iowa is a joint effort of license applicant, local authority (city or county) and the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (Division).
Renewing the License/permit
Licensees are encouraged to renew early through their local authority. They receive a 70-day renewal notice from the Division. Receipt of the notice is a good time to begin the renewal process. Some local authorities require renewal applications to be submitted 30 or 60 days before the license expires. All information entered on the previous year's license will be reflected on the renewal application. However, the renewal application contains some questions that need to be answered annually to determine whether or not the applicant and the premises meet licensing requirements.
Criminal history questions on the renewal application must be fully completed. All convictions and arrests since the last renewal must be updated for each person named on the ownership screen. It is important to complete this section honestly and with full disclosure.
The Division encourages license applicants to complete their own applications. If another party completes the document, the applicant must verify the information before submitting it. An applicant may be denied a license if there is false or misrepresenting information on the application.
Applicants with questions should contact their local authority or email the Division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get a liquor license or wine or beer permit, an applicant must demonstrate ‘good moral character.' In Iowa, an applicant is considered to be of ‘good moral character’ if he or she meets the following criteria:
- Is a U.S. citizen and an Iowa resident, or incorporated to do business in the state. The corporation must be registered and in good standing with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office.
- Has no felony convictions. If there is a felony conviction that is more than five years old and the applicant’s rights of citizenship have been restored, the applicant may be eligible for a license.
- Has not had any financial interest in an Iowa liquor license, wine or beer permit that was revoked during the past two years.
- Has ‘financial standing’ and a ‘good reputation’ indicating that the applicant will comply with all laws and rules governing the license.
NOTE: When reviewing a person's financial standing, the local authority or the Division may consider the following factors, including but not limited to – 1) amount of financial support and operating funds; 2) prompt payment of state and local taxes; 3) fees and charges for municipal utilities and services; 4) prompt payment of licensing fees and any administrative penalties.
When evaluating a person’s 'good reputation,' the local authority or the Division may consider such factors as, but not limited to - 1) if the person has a history of showing disregard for the law; 2) has convictions for selling alcoholic beverages to under aged or intoxicated people; 3) has a history of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
In a partnership or corporation, all requirements apply to all officers, directors and shareholders. If the business is operated under a sole proprietorship, the spouse is exempt from citizenship and resident requirements if he or she has no ownership interest.
All licensed premises must meet all requirements of state laws, local ordinances, health regulations and fire regulations as listed below:
- Be owned or under the control of the applicant.
- Be located in the jurisdiction of an approving local authority.
- Be in good repair, clean and free of litter.
- Have separate restrooms for men and women (on-premises consumption).
- Be equipped with running water from a source approved by the local health department (on-premises consumption).
- Have tables and chairs to seat a minimum of 25 people at one time (on-premises consumption).
A Personal Privilege
Having a liquor license or wine or beer permit in Iowa is a personal privilege. The individual, partnership or corporation receiving the income from the alcoholic beverages sold must have a license or permit.
Local authorities (city council or county board of supervisors) and the Division must be notified of any changes in ownership. Ownership changes must be reported when the changes occur, not at license renewal time.
Change of Ownership
When ownership of an establishment changes, an ownership update application must be submitted to the local authority and Division along with the following documents:
- Corporations – Minutes of corporate meetings reflecting the resignation of officers and/or directors or the election of new personnel or copies of the transfer of shares of the corporation’s stock.
- Partnerships – Proof of dissolution or a notarized affidavit from the partner leaving the partnership or an amended trade name document.
- Individuals – The existing license/permit must be canceled. The new owner must apply for a new license/permit under his/her name.
When an ownership update application is submitted, any new individuals must complete the ownership and conviction questions. This gives the local authority and the Division the information necessary to determine if the new applicants qualify for a license/permit.
ADDITIONAL LICENSE PRIVILEGES
Sunday Sales Privilege
To sell or serve alcoholic beverages on Sundays, licensees or permittees must have a Sunday sales privilege. Class E liquor licenses and Class B wine permits automatically include Sunday sales privileges (applicant must check Sunday sales box on application). Class E licensees who also have a Class C beer permit must have a Sunday sales privilege to sell beer on Sunday. Sunday hours are from 8 AM Sunday to 2 AM Monday. All laws and regulations that apply to the regular license apply to the Sunday sales privilege.
A Sunday sales privilege is an extension of the days a licensee is allowed to sell alcoholic beverages. It is not a stand-alone license. “Sunday sales privilege” is printed at the bottom of the license. The privilege expires with the license and must be renewed each year.
A Catering Privilege may be added to a 12-month Class B or Class C liquor license but not to a Special Class C liquor license. It allows the licensee to act as the agent of a private social host for the purpose of providing and serving alcoholic beverages at private social gatherings in a private place. The licensee must serve food with the alcoholic beverages. All food and beverages must be provided to the guests free of charge and donations cannot be solicited to help cover expenses. A private place is one that meets the following requirements:
- The location is not a licensed establishment.
- The general public is not allowed at the gathering.
- Attendance is limited to the host and official guests.
- Guests do not sell or purchase goods during the gathering.
- Guests do not pay any fees to attend the gathering.
- The caterer is not responsible for renting the space or for other charges related to the space. All expenses associated with the space are paid by the host.
Examples of private social gatherings might be:
- Parties held in private homes.
- Wedding receptions held in churches.
- Private events held in business offices or buildings.
Annual Class B or Class C applicants must indicate the Catering Privilege on the application. The Catering Privilege is not a stand-alone license. Records for each catered event must be maintained and open for inspection, including: 1) Date of the event; 2) Host’s name; and 3) Host’s address.
Special class "a" & "AA" beer permits (Brew Pubs)
Iowa law allows class B beer permit and class C liquor license holders to obtain special class "A" and "AA" beer permits (brew pubs). A special class "A" beer permit allows for the manufacture of low proof beer (no more than 5% alcohol by weight) to be consumed on the licensed premises. A special class "AA" beer permit allows for the manufacture of high proof beer (more than 5% but not more than 12% alcohol by weight) to be consumed on the licensed premises. The beer must be sold to licensed wholesalers for resale to other retail licensees or for carryout from the licensed premises by customers (including growlers). Brew pub and/or high proof brew pub will be noted on your license/permit. The special class "A" or "AA" beer permit (brew pub) expires with the class B beer permit or class C liquor license and must be renewed each year.
Outdoor Service Areas
Designated outdoor service areas are extensions of the licensed premises. Outdoor service areas are not licensed separately. Licensees/permittees can sell or serve alcoholic beverages in an outdoor service area only if meeting licensing requirements.
Applications for outdoor service areas must be submitted online. The licensee/permittee's insurance carrier must certify that the dramshop liability insurance covers the outdoor service area. A sketch of the outdoor service area showing boundaries and its relationship to the licensed premises (the area must be adjacent to the premises) must be submitted to the city council or county board of supervisors. Applications for outdoor service areas must be approved by the city council or county board of supervisors.
When requirements are met and approved by the Division, the words “outdoor service area” will be printed on any license/permit lasting longer than 14 days. Outdoor service area will not be reflected on the license/permit if the outdoor area is to be used for less than a two week period: A letter of authorization will be sent to the local authority and the license/permit holder. This expires with the license/permit and must also be renewed.
NOTE: Local authorities can approve or deny an application for outdoor service area. Denials can be appealed to the Alcoholic Beverages Division.
Living Quarters Permit
When living quarters are accessible from the inside of a licensed premises, a licensee/permittee must file for a 'living quarters permit' with the Division. This permit separates the licensed establishment from the residence and protects the resident from legal searches without a warrant. Law enforcement officials must have a search warrant before they can search any private living quarters.
All alcohol inventory must be stored in the licensed premises and cannot be stored in the residence. The words “living quarters” will be printed on the license/permit.
License/PERMIT (PREMISES) Transfers
Alcoholic beverage licenses/permits may be transferred from one location to another qualified location. The new location must be within the jurisdiction of the local authority (city or county) that initially approved the license/permit. A license/permit in an unincorporated area of a county may not transfer into an incorporated city in the same county. A license/permit issued by an incorporated city can only transfer to a location in the same city. Licenses/permits may not be transferred from one person to another. For changes of ownership, please refer to "Change of Ownership (above)."
Selling and serving of alcoholic beverages at the new location is limited to the transfer period approved by the local authority (city or county). The licensee/permittee can sell or serve products allowed by their license/permit, only. Sales and service at the original location must stop during the time of the license/permit transfer.
Transfers may be temporary (24 hours to 7 days) or permanent.
Applications for license/permit transfers must be submitted online. The licensee/permittee's insurance carrier must certify that the dramshop liability insurance covers the premises to which the license/permit is being transferred. A sketch of the premises must be submitted to the city council or county board of supervisors. Transfer applications must be approved by the city council or county board of supervisors. When requirements are met and approved by the Division, a letter of authorization will be sent to the local authority and the license/permit holder for a temporary transfer. When a transfer is permanent, the Division issues an amended license/permit with the new address.
TEMPORARY (Special Event) Licenses/PERMITS
Temporary licenses/permits are for people who want to sell alcoholic beverages on-premises at town celebrations or other special events. The licensing requirements are the same as for a 12-month license/permit of the same class. Temporary licenses/permits are valid for five or 14 consecutive days, but do not include Sundays. Applicants wanting to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday within the five-day or 14-day period must also have a Sunday sales privilege.
Seasonal licenses/permits are issued for a 6-month or 8-month period. The licensing requirements are the same as for a 12-month license/permit of the same class. Seasonal licenses/permits are not renewable. There is a two month waiting period before another seasonal license/permit can be issued.
Licensees/permittees may be required to get the following documents in addition to their alcoholic beverage license/permit:
• Sales Tax Permit (Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance, 1.800.367.3388 or 515.281.5777).
• Food Establishment or Food Service License (Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, 515.281.6538).
• Federal Special Occupational Tax Permit (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 513.684.2979).
• Federal Basic Wholesalers' Permit (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, 513.684.3337)
NOTE: The Federal Basic Wholesalers' Permit is required only for Class E liquor licensees selling to on-premises licensees.
Depending on the type of business, local authorities (cities and counties) might require other permits (tasting, dance, cigarette, etc.). Contact your local authority to find out about any special requirements.