A nuisance is the unlawful or unreasonable use of property in a way that causes damage to other individuals by preventing them from enjoying their own property. In certain situations, it may be considered criminal nuisance.
Nuisance can also be grounds for an eviction if a tenant is the responsible party. A public nuisance is a nuisance that affects several members of the public or the public at large, for example, the noxious fumes emitted from a factory.
A private nuisance only affects a limited number of individuals, for example, constant loud music that affects neighbors.
What Is an Example of Nuisance?
A nuisance may include:
- Noxious smells;
- Loud noises;
- Unauthorized burning of materials;
- The posing of obscene or indecent signs or pictures; and
- Illegal gambling.
Public nuisance examples include:
- Pollution of navigable waterways;
- Interfering with the use of public parks; and
- The creation of public health hazards.
What Are the Types of Nuisance?
As noted above, the two main categories of nuisance are public nuisance and private nuisance. Nuisance is an action that is based in tort law that may involve conduct, including:
- Loud noises;
- Foul odors;
- Chemical fumes;
- Excessive light; and
- Other things.
In certain situations, it may also involve criminal activities, such as gambling or prostitution. Public nuisances are acts that unreasonably interfere with the safety, health, morals, or property rights of the general public.
Common examples of public nuisance include:
- An oil or chemical spill that affects the entire community;
- A garbage dump that has smells that infiltrate the whole town;
- An instance of offensive vandalism, such as obscene graffiti art; and
- A motor vehicle accident in which vehicles are stranded for days and obstruct a main road.
A private nuisance, in contrast, is a substantial and unreasonable interferes with another individual’s use or enjoyment of their property by being:
- Irritating; or
A private nuisance only affects one or a few individuals as opposed to an entire community. For example, if a neighbor’s tree falls on an individual’s driveway and the neighbor refuses to remove it or if a neighbor allows their dog to bark all night on a regular basis.
The Remedies for Nuisance
If a nuisance occurs, a court may order the party that is responsible to stop or limit the activity by issuing an injunction. The parties that are affected by the nuisance may be entitled to monetary damages.
With a criminal nuisance, the responsible party can be jailed or fined. In order for a plaintiff to recover from a responsible party in civil court, they must show:
- Their neighbor is engaging in an activity that seriously annoys them;
- The neighbor’s activities have prevented them from enjoying their own property;
- The neighbor is responsible for the activity;
- The activities are unlawful or unreasonable; and
- The court can remedy the problem by issuing an injunction or awarding damages.
If an individual is having issues with a neighbor, they should consult with a lawyer for neighbor disputes. There are certain activities that may violate local zoning laws or ordinances such as construction, in which case the city attorney or town counsel may help an individual bring an action against their neighbor.
If an individual resides in a condominium, cooperative, or planned community, the unreasonable conduct may be prohibited by the bylaws or regulations. If so, the homeowner’s association may help a resident enforce the restriction against their neighbor.
What to Do When a Nuisance Occurs
If an individual believes that the activities of another individual rise to the level of a nuisance, there are several things an individual should do. First, they should write a letter to the responsible party and request that they stop the activity.
An individual should keep a copy of the letter as well as mail it in a way that requires a signature to prove they received it. An individual may also contact law enforcement and file a complaint.
If these do not work, an individual should contact an attorney to see if suing a neighbor for nuisance would be an appropriate next step.
What Relief Is Available against a Public Nuisance?
There are several different legal consequences that an individual or entity may face under public nuisance law. The most common type of relief that is granted for a public nuisance is an injunction.
Injunctions are court orders that require offenders to refrain from or to carry out a certain action. In lawsuits for a public nuisance, injunctions are used primarily to stop the harmful conduct from continuing.
If a public nuisance lawsuit involves an activity that is necessary, for example, the operation of a power plant, the court may allow a nuisance to continue to continue but may require a defendant to compensate the plaintiff for the harm suffered. This may be done by awarding ongoing monetary damages.
In some cases, special monetary damages may be awarded to individuals who experience a specific harm that differs from those of the community and are plaintiffs to the lawsuit. Certain public nuisances also give rise to criminal charges.
Punishments in these cases may include:
- Paying hefty criminal fines;
- Serving a prison sentence; or
- Being put on probation.
Are There Any Defenses to Public Nuisance Claims?
There are several defenses that may be used in a public nuisance lawsuit, which may include:
- Assumption of risk;
- Statutory compliance;
- Contributory negligence; and
- Coming to the nuisance.
In addition to these defenses, a court may consider several factors when evaluating whether the activity constituted a nuisance, including:
- The location where the nuisance occurred;
- For example, was the area properly zoned for such activity?;
- The degree of harm it caused;
- How the property has been used in the past;
- For example, was a chemical plant always there, or did it appear suddenly in a residential neighborhood?;
- Whether the nuisance is something that occurs occasionally or is occurring all the time;
- How many individuals are affected by an activity; and
- Whether continuing the activity will outweigh the harm that is done to the public.
Although this list includes factors that a court will consider and are not actual legal defenses, a defendant can use them to support their arguments. For example, a defendant may try to persuade the court that it should not suffer legal consequences because:
- The activity was conducted in the appropriate zone;
- It did not affect the entire community; and
- The benefits outweighed any harm that was done to the general public.
What Is the Statute of Limitations (SOL) for a Public Nuisance Claim?
A statute of limitations (SOL) is a time limit a party has to file a claim. The SOL for a public nuisance may vary widely by state.
Generally, the SOL is determined by whether the nuisance is considered a permanent or temporary activity. The majority of states have a 3 years SOL for permanent nuisances.
Some states consider if the nuisance is recurring or continuous. The SOL to bring a lawsuit in these cases is typically within 6 years of the original act.
For a temporary nuisance, the SOL is typically 2 years. It is important to review the local laws or consult with an attorney regarding the SOL to bring a claim.
What to Do If a Nuisance Lawsuit is Brought Against You
If you are facing a nuisance lawsuit, it is important to consult with a property attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can advise you of your rights, what defenses may be available to you, and how to navigate the complex legal system.
If you are suffering from a nuisance, it may be helpful to consult with an attorney to determine what actions you can take and what compensation you may be entitled to.