Nuisance From a Neighbor’s Noise, Light, or Odor Emissions

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 What is a Nuisance?

A nuisance is the unreasonable, unlawful, or unusual use of an individual’s land which substantially interferes with another property owner’s right to enjoy their own property. Nuisance may include:

  • Noxious smells;
  • Loud noises;
  • Unauthorized burning of materials;
  • The posting of indecent or obscene signs or pictures; and
  • Illegal gambling.

In some situations, a landowner’s emission of noises, lights, or odors can expose them to liability to their neighbors. In addition, some nuisance issues may be criminal.

If the individual is renting their residence, nuisance may be grounds for an eviction if the tenant is the responsible party. A public nuisance is a type of nuisance that affects several members of the public, for example, when noxious fumes are emitted from a factory.

A private nuisance only affects a limited number of individuals, such as constant loud music which affects the individual’s neighbors. Or, another common example might be a neighbor that allows their dog to bark all night, preventing others from sleeping.

This type of issue may form the basis of a nuisance suit against a neighbor. If the issues persist after the individual requests that their neighbor remedy the problem, they may be able to sue.

When can a Person Be Liable for Noise, Light, or Odor Emissions?

There are situations in which an individual may be liable for noise, light, or odor emissions. In general, to prove a nuisance involving a neighbor’s noise, light, or odor emissions, an individual will have to show that:

  • Their neighbor is emitting noise, light, or an odor from their land;
  • Their neighbor’s action unreasonably interferes with the individual’s use and enjoyment of their property; and
  • They have suffered a material and substantial harm because of their neighbor’s actions.

In addition, there are also nuisance odor regulations that have been enacted by the federal government. Many states also have their own nuisance odor regulations.

There are many different types of substances that may cause harmful or noxious odors to be emitted into the air. For example, if an individual illegally smokes marijuana and the smell disturbs their neighbors, they are creating a private nuisance.

What are Examples of Noise, Light, or Odor Emission Nuisances?

There are many examples across the United States of cases in which a landowner has successfully sued their neighbor for nuisance based on noise, light, or odor emission. Examples include:

  • Noise from a racetrack;
  • Noise from a music festival;
  • Odors from hog or bird farms;
  • Noise and odors from a landfill;
  • Light from a baseball field;
  • Odor from a septic tank;
  • Noise and lights from an after-hours club;
  • Noise from radio-controlled airplanes;
  • Noise from exterior speakers;
  • Noise from a shooting range;
  • Light from a cell phone tower; and
  • Odor and noise from a dog kennel.

What are the Steps to Sue a Neighbor for Nuisance on Noise, Light, or Odor Emission?

When a nuisance occurs, a court may order the responsible party to limit or cease the activity cause the nuisance by issuing an injunction. The individuals who were affected by the nuisance may also be entitled to damages. If the nuisance is criminal in nature, the responsible party may be jailed or be required to pay criminal fines.

In order to successfully file a lawsuit against another individual for private nuisance, they must show:

  • They rent, own, or lease property;
  • The defendant maintained or created a condition that was:
    • Harmful to their health;
    • Indecent or offensive; or
    • Obstructed the free use of their property;
  • The defendant’s conduct was not consented to;
  • The defendant’s conduct interfered with the use and enjoyment of the property;
  • The defendant’s conduct would be reasonably disturbing or annoying to an ordinary person;
  • The individual was, in fact, harmed, or their sleep was disturbed by the defendant’s conduct; and
  • The seriousness of the harm outweighs the public benefit of the conduct.

There are also some activities that may violate local zoning laws or ordinances, such as construction. In these situations, the city attorney or town counsel may help an individual bring an action against their neighbor.

If an individual lives in a condominium, cooperative, or a planned community, the unreasonable conduct may be prohibited by the bylaws or regulations of that community. If so, the homeowner’s association may help the individual enforce the restriction against their neighbor.

If an individual believes that the activities of their neighbor constitute a nuisance, there are several steps towards suing a neighbor for nuisance that they may take. First, they may write to the responsible party and request that they stop engaging in that particular activity.

An individual may also contact local law enforcement and file a complaint. As noted above, if the issue is not taken care of, the individual being harmed may sue in civil court.

Are There any Defenses on Nuisance Lawsuit?

Yes, there are numerous defenses available that an individual can present against a nuisance lawsuit for the emission of noises, light, or odors. Examples include:

  • The activity is lawful or reasonable;
  • The injured neighbor came to the noise, light, or odor emission that already existed;
  • The neighbor causing the nuisance was not negligent;
  • There are contributing or alternative causes for the nuisance;
  • The injured individual is abnormally sensitive to the noise, light, or odor emissions; or
  • The injured neighbor is themselves negligent.

What is Recoverable in a Lawsuit for a Neighbor’s Noise, Light, or Odor Emissions?

In general, if an individual is successful in a lawsuit against a nuisance from a neighbor’s noise, light, or odor emissions, they may be able to recover:

  • An abatement of the nuisance, or the ceasing of the nuisance;
  • Damages, including compensatory and future damages; and
  • Fees associated with stopping the nuisance.

As noted above, a court may issue an injunction to require the defendant to stop whatever activity or activities that are causing the nuisance. Injunctions are legally enforceable and if the defendant fails to comply with the requirements of the injunction, they may face jail time or criminal fines.

The plaintiff, or neighbor that was harmed, may also receive an award of compensatory damages. These damages are awarded for the purpose of restoring the injured party to the position that they were in prior to the harm or loss that occurred. State laws may vary regarding compensatory damages.

The court will consider numerous factors when calculating compensatory damages. Typically, these include:

  • The background of the plaintiff;
  • The type of injury as well as the extent of the injury;
  • Costs associated with treating or rehabilitating the plaintiff;
  • Any differences or losses in the plaintiff’s ability to earn a wage before and after the incident;
  • Actual losses of income;
  • Whether any property damage resulted from the accident; and
  • Any other impacts on the plaintiff’s quality of life.

Do I Need an Attorney to Handle a Nuisance From a Neighbor’s Noise, Light, or Odor Emissions?

Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced property attorney for help with a nuisance from a neighbor’s noise, light, or odor emission. If you are being affected by your neighbor’s emissions, an attorney can help you sue your neighbor and get the nuisance to stop.

If you are being sued by your neighbor for a nuisance, your attorney can review your case, determine if there are any defenses available to you, and represent you during any court proceedings. Your attorney may also be able to facilitate negotiations that may result in a resolution outside of the courtroom.


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