Can We Do Anything About Ongoing Disturbances to Our Peace Caused by Our Neighbor?
People have a legal right to enjoy and use their property. When a neighbor unreasonably and substantially interferes with the enjoyment and use of your land, the neighbor is said in legal terms to be creating a nuisance. A nuisance causes significant harm, which may be actual physical harm or something less tangible, such as considerable inconvenience or annoyance.
Nuisance is a question of state law and legal aspects vary considerably from state to state. Whether your neighbor’s activity constitutes an actual nuisance is also highly dependant upon your individual situation, and the range of what legally adds up to a nuisance is extremely wide. Courts look at what is reasonable considering all the unique circumstances.
- Bright lights (spotlights, floodlights, holiday displays)
- Excessive noise (loud music, machinery, playgrounds)
- Stray electrical voltage (utility stations)
- Encroaching vegetation (tree limbs, weeds)
- Radiation (various types)
- Pollution and contamination (manufacturing, vehicles, machinery)
- Smoke (manufacturing, vehicles, machinery)
- Dust (manufacturing, construction)
- Vibration (heavy machinery, manufacturing, construction)
- Congestion (people, vehicles)
- Interference with access to light, view and air (fences, structures, vegetation)
- Foul odor (dumps, farms, manufacturing, slaughterhouses)
Some possible nuances, depending on the law of your jurisdiction:
- Actual physical intrusion on your property is not usually necessary for a nuisance to exist.
- A person may be responsible for creating a nuisance even if he or she is not doing it intentionally, recklessly or even negligently.
- A person may be liable for a nuisance even when his or her behavior is legal.
- Whether a nuisance exists is highly dependent upon the unique facts of the situation. For example, what may constitute a nuisance in a residential area may be normal in an industrial setting.
- Property owners can always sue for nuisance; in many states renters or others legally in control of property can also sue.
- To be a nuisance, the activity or condition must be of the type that would significantly harm a person of normal sensibilities, not someone unusually sensitive.
- Usually, the fact that something is unsightly or aesthetically displeasing is not enough to constitute a nuisance.
- Usually, but not always, there must be actual harm, not just the fear of impending harm.
Public and Private Nuisances
A nuisance is private when it affects an individual landowner or a small number of neighbors. However, a nuisance is public when it interferes with the use and enjoyment of property in the community at large.
For a private nuisance, or a public nuisance if it affects you more intensely than it does others in the community, you may be able to sue the neighbor responsible for your particular disturbance in the tort of nuisance. You may be able to recover money damages for things like actual physical harm to self or property, or lost profits from a business, depending on what harm you suffered. You also may be able to ask the court to order the offending party to stop its harmful actions. Such a court order to cease and desist is called an injunction. In some jurisdictions, you may be able to obtain an early injunction to prevent an anticipatory nuisance from even beginning.
For a purely public nuisance that affects the entire surrounding area, community members should report the problems to the local authorities. The offending party may be ordered to stop by the government or might even be criminally liable.
In some jurisdictions and circumstances, it may be a defense to a nuisance lawsuit that the plaintiff chose to occupy property knowing beforehand about the neighbor’s harmful activity. This is known as the coming-to-the-nuisance defense. Another defense may be that the plaintiff missed the statute of limitations, the legal deadline before which the lawsuit must be filed. The defendant also may try to prove that the plaintiff consented to the complained-of activity. Other defenses are possible.
It is important to consult a knowledgeable real estate lawyer to learn about your state’s nuisance law and how it applies to you.
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