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 tort of private nuisance protects a person's right to use and enjoy his or her property. 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 the acts 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.
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, since they may not fully realize the affects of their actions.
While states may vary on their definition of a private nuisance, a plaintiff must typically prove the following elements:
- The plaintiff owns the land or has the right to possess it;
- The defendant actually acted in a way that interferes with the plaintiff's enjoyment and use of his or her property; and
- The defendant's interference was substantial and unreasonable.
In order to better understand when there is a claim for a private nuisance, 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 of the act.
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.
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