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LIENS ON LIQUOR LICENSES

By:  John B. Newman

For over seventy years New Jersey law has prohibited a borrower from granting a security interest in a liquor license.  New Jersey’s Alcoholic Beverage Control statute specifically precludes a licensee from utilizing a liquor license as collateral for a loan.  Courts have recognized that a liquor license is a privilege, not a right, and is analogous to a temporary permit.  The rationale behind these decisions was to defer to the State’s regulatory authority in issuing and monitoring liquor licenses.

Of course lenders do give financing to bars and restaurants.  In giving such financing it has been the practice to effectively obtain a lien on the license by taking a pledge of the stock in the licensee.  This is done by obtaining a stock pledge agreement from all shareholders in the corporation.  If there is a default, the lender can take control of the stock and the Board of Directors, and elect new officers who can then sell the license (and pay down the secured debt).  Usually this procedure is sufficient to protect the lender, but not always.

If there is a federal or state tax lien, the holders of the lien can levy on the license and “prime” the lender.  In addition, if there is a bankruptcy, the proceeds of a sale of the license by the bankruptcy trustee may be used by the trustee for administration expenses, and for the benefit of creditors generally, including unsecured creditors.  Thus, it has always been incumbent upon a lender who is relying on its “lien” on a liquor license to be sure that its borrower is paying its taxes and is solvent.

Also, in underwriting such loans, a lender cannot place any value on the liquor license even if the Borrower paid a substantial sum for it.  A liquor license is not good collateral.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The reader should consult legal counsel to determine how the law may apply to specific situations.