By FindLaw Staff | Legally reviewed by Robert Rafii, Esq. | Last reviewed November 24, 2022
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
The last updated date refers to the last time this article was reviewed by FindLaw or one of our contributing authors. We make every effort to keep our articles updated. For information regarding a specific legal issue affecting you, please contact an attorney in your area.
Both in everyday vernacular and in legal terms, a nuisance is something that causes an annoyance. If a nuisance causes problems to the general public, it's classified as a public nuisance. If, on the other hand, a nuisance interferes with the right of specific person or entity, it is considered a private nuisance.
More specifically, the common law tort of private nuisance protects a person's right to enjoyment and use of property, including the enjoyment of the land and free use of the real property owned by that person. A few examples of private nuisances are: vibration, pollution of a stream or soil, smoke, foul odors, excessive light, and loud noises. Private nuisance lawsuits typically arise between neighbors, with one property owner being negatively affected by unreasonable interference of his or her neighbor. This article explains the elements that a plaintiff must prove in order to win his or her private nuisance case or cause of action.
The Elements of a Private Nuisance Lawsuit
Property owners have a right to the enjoyment and use of their land. In the event that another party interferes with that right -- for instance, a neighbor regularly plays his music at maximum volume late at night -- a property owner can sue the interfering party. If the intrusion is physical, a property owner may be able to sue under the legal theory of trespass. In the event that trespass laws do not apply, but there is still interference, a property owner may be able to sue under the theory of private nuisance. Talking to your neighbor about the nuisance is usually the best first step before bringing a nuisance action, since they may not fully realize the affects of their actions.
While civil codes may vary on their definition of a private nuisance, a plaintiff must typically prove the following elements under state law:
- The plaintiff owns the land or has the right to possess his or her own property;
- The defendant actually acted in a way that interferes with the plaintiff's enjoyment and use of his or her property rights; and
- The defendant's interference was substantial and unreasonable.
In order to better understand when there is a claim for a private nuisance under the law of torts, it's important to understand the elements. The first element is self-explanatory -- only a person who has an interest in the affected property can file a claim. As for the second element, it's important to understand that the defendant's acts can be intentional, negligent, or reckless.
The third element is meant to prevent people from suing for petty annoyances. In determining if a particular interference is substantial, the court will apply a standard of an ordinary person. This means that if a property owner has a particular sensitivity to odors, for example, that will not be the standard to determine if the odor he or she is complaining about is a substantial interference. As for whether the defendant's conduct was unreasonable, the court will apply a balancing test that weighs the harm caused by the conduct against the burden of preventing the harm and the usefulness and reasonableness of the act.
Under nuisance law, a court may provide injunctive relief to protect a plaintiff's use or enjoyment of his property, or to prevent the loss of use of real estate and even avoid potential physical injury from a continuing nuisance.
Bothered by a Private Nuisance? Discuss Your Options With an Attorney
It can be frustrating to feel like you can't peacefully enjoy your property. If you're wondering whether you have a valid private nuisance claim or if someone has filed a private nuisance claim against you, you may want to contact a local personal injury attorney experienced in property disputes to discuss your options and obtain legal advice.
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified personal injury attorney to make sure your rights are protected.