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What Is a Public Nuisance?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Mosquitoes and hangnails are everyday nuisances, but legally speaking, what is a public nuisance?

You may have seen the term used in the news, as a Southern California city recently decided that odors from a spicy Sriracha plant are a public nuisance.

So what is the legal effect of being deemed a public nuisance?

Nuisance Laws in General

Although the common use of "nuisance" is something that annoys a person, nuisance laws actually deal with property. Trespassing is the unlawful physical entry onto another's property, and it can be either a criminal or a civil charge.

Nuisances, on the other hand, only consist of acts that interfere with the enjoyment of a person's property but without any physical invasion or trespass.

Examples of nuisances can include:

  • Bright lights,
  • Loud or irritating noises,
  • Sickening or noxious smells,
  • Major health hazards,
  • The unsafe storage of dangerous materials, or
  • Criminal activity.

Nuisance actions are divided into public and private nuisances.

Public v. Private Nuisance

A public nuisance is one that has the potential to affect the health, safety, welfare, and/or comfort of the general public. In many states, public nuisances are punishable in criminal court as well as civil.

In Irwindale, California, the city council has determined that the spicy fumes from a Sriracha plant were a public nuisance. According to the Los Angeles Times, nearby residents claim the odors burn "their eyes and throats at certain times of the day."

This sort of wide-reaching nuisance is different from a private nuisance action. With a private nuisance, only one or a few property owners may be affected by an obnoxious smell, sound, or light source, as opposed to an entire community.

Remedies for Nuisances

In both types of nuisance cases, a judge may grant an injunction preventing the offending property owning from continuing the nuisance activity. In some cases, this injunctive relief may include renovations or changes to a property in order to mitigate the nuisance.

The piquant odors from the Irwindale Sriracha plant led to the factory temporarily shutting down after a judge granted such an injunction.

If the parties responsible for the nuisance are not property owners, their landlords may evict them for creating a public nuisance.

When annoyances to property owners begin to rise to the level of community-wide worries, then public nuisance laws start to come into play. To find out more about your public nuisance options, consult an experienced real estate lawyer in your area.

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