It's more than a simple night of making a few hundred bucks from charging your friends for beer - it is a crime that carries a maximum fine of $1,875 for first-time offenders (plus court costs) and a year in prison.
Even though the brunt of the Iowa City police is stationed downtown on weekend nights, officials say they are aware of the numerous house parties occurring off campus. And they say party hosts should be aware that they can face charges for selling cups or booze at the door. The citation for doing so is the age-old offense of "bootlegging."
By definition in the Iowa Code, bootlegging is "the prohibited 'sale' of beer, wine, or liquor," but it can be described in more familiar terms as simply selling a red plastic keg cup at a house party for $5 a pop.
"The only way you can legally sell alcohol in the state of Iowa is with a state liquor license," said Lynn Walding, the administrator of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division.
UI students may be unaware of the offense because bootlegging arrests around Iowa City are somewhat rare - the last complaint was made at a tailgating party around three years ago.
"The tailgating season is when we tend to hear more about bootlegging," said Iowa City police Sgt. Troy Kelsay. "We don't really hear about it
when it's going on, but we hear about it either being advertised, or more likely after the fact. A neighbor calls in the next day and says, 'You know, there are 12 empty kegs in the backyard; what's going on with that?' "
Although bootlegging charges have been few thus far in Iowa City, the offense has seen more attention on other campuses. The Cedar Falls police have made seven bootlegging arrests at the University of Northern Iowa since school started in mid-August.
"In the fall, the weather's nice, people want to have parties, celebrate coming back, and what they do is make the mistake of actually selling alcohol," said Cedar Falls Police Chief Rick Ahlstrom.
Kelsay said the Iowa City police often opt for different methods in addressing the problem.
House-party-attendees and hosts could be charged with any combination of the following: PAULA, disorderly house, and providing alcohol to a minor.
However, with the downtown bar capacities reaching 6,000 to 7,000 people per night, the trouble house parties present for police seem slim in comparison.
"If people don't complain, if it's not thrown out into the street, or if it's not causing a disturbance, officers are not going to go door to door looking for these things," Kelsay said.