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Animals That Cause a Public or Private Nuisance Lawyers

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What is a Nuisance?

Nuisance law restricts landowner's use or property so as not to disturb with another's use and enjoyment of land. Nuisances are classified as a public nuisance, private nuisance, or both. Private nuisance is a civil wrong based on a disturbance of rights in land affecting an individual or small group. A public nuisance is where the interference affects the rights of the community at large.

How Can an Animal be a Nuisance?

Animals or the places where they are kept may become nuisances. Typically, the noises made by animals or the odor of them may cause a nuisance when they affect the comfort of those living in the community. Other common causes of action for animal nuisances include:

  • Incessant dog barking that disturbs the sleep and quiet enjoyment of others within the community
  • Continually allowing neighboring pets to urinate or defecate on public or another's property
  • Pets trespassing or roaming around without any kind of physical restraint
  • Keeping exotic pets which are not legally permitted to be in a non-zoo setting, such as non-domestic cats like lions or non-human primates like gorillas

When Does an Annoyance Become a Legal Nuisance?

To constitute as a nuisance, the noise, odors, or other objectionable characteristics of the keeping of the animals must be shown to materially offend a reasonable person. 

Can a Pig or Cow Farm be a Nuisance?

Pig or cow farms often result in noxious odors, vermin, noise, and pollution. These farms may constitute a nuisance if they significantly interfere with public health, safety, peace, comfort, or convenience of the general public.  In a nuisance lawsuit, courts will generally consider factors such as:

  • Whether the farm was built first before other residential properties
  • The social value of the farming
  • The surrounding community
  • The type of harm the nuisance causes
  • Whether the injured person or persons knew about the farm before moving to the area
  • Whether the farmer has complied with state, federal, and local regulations

What If a Wild or Feral Animal is a Nuisance?

Wild animals which move into human space, such as raccoons, or domesticated animals which are hostile to human contact should not be approached. Instead, call the nearest animal control center.

What are the Penalties for Keeping an Animal Which Becomes a Nuisance?

Most Courts will treat animal nuisance as nuisance per se: the possession of the offending animal(s), the proof of the animal’s behavior and the owner’s inability to control the animal(s) establishes nuisance as a fact. As such, animal nuisance is overseen by a judge rather than a jury.

Animal nuisance laws vary between states. States may regulate the type of animal kept, number of animals and the size of such animals. Penalties can range from simple warnings (usually given by police to first-time offenders) to heavy fines. Animals which are uncontrollable and endanger the public at large may be subject to state confiscation.

Should You Seek an Attorney to Help Resolve a Nuisance Issue?

Courts can take into consideration a variety of factors in evaluating a nuisance case. Some courts have emphasized the zoning ordinances or nature of the area in which the nuisance takes place. An experienced real estate attorney will help you distinguish what is central to your cause of action and certainly will support you in resolving your case.

Photo of page author Ken LaMance

, LegalMatch Law Library Managing Editor and Attorney at Law

Last Modified: 11-13-2013 11:02 AM PST

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