Does your neighbor have too many pink flamingos in their yard for your liking? While questionable lawn décor may be an eyesore, it’s not a legal problem. When do your neighbors’ quirks become a legal problem that can be addressed? Think of conditions such as perpetual loud noises, bad smells, bright lights, pollution or piled up garbage. These are substantial, unreasonable interferences with the use and enjoyment of another person's property; this is called a private nuisance.
Legally speaking, there are two types of nuisances: private nuisances and public nuisances. Public nuisances are property uses that threaten public health, safety and welfare. Common examples involve polluting land or water (leaking barrels of oil), harboring dangerous animals (tigers in a backyard), storing dangerous materials (nuclear waste), among others. This type of land use threatens the general public interest and can be actionable by civil suits or even criminal prosecution.
In the law, an actionable nuisance is whatever is indecent or offensive to the senses, injurious to health, or an obstruction to the free use of property, which essentially interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property. If these conditions occur, this may be an actionable claim. Four components must be present for a private nuisance to constitute an actionable claim:
You have property rights in the land you are trying to protect,
Your neighbor’s property use results in a significant harm to your property use,
Your neighbor’s use or conduct is the legal cause of the harm you are suffering, and
Your neighbor’s use is either (i) intentional and unreasonable, or (ii) unintentional and otherwise actionable under the rules governing liability for negligent, recklessness, or ultra-hazardous conduct.
Now that you know the components of an actionable private nuisance claim, what are your remedies? Any person whose property is injuriously affected or whose personal enjoyment is lessened by a nuisance may sue for damages and for an injunction to abate the nuisance (i.e. stop your neighbor from doing what they were doing). Don’t wait to see if it goes away. While you might think being a good neighbor won’t make things worse, it can! The law gives you a limited time to bring forth an actionable nuisance claim; otherwise, you may be stuck with the behavior or intrusion to your privacy.
To wrap up, nuisance law is complicated. There are some things that may always be considered a nuisance, some that are a nuisance simply because a statute says so, and some others that are a nuisance just as a matter of the specific circumstances involved. As a landowner, it’s important to be aware of nuisance law, for you might be responsible for a nuisance even if you did not actually create the conditions amounting to the nuisance. Congrats on taking the first step towards protecting your property rights by learning about nuisances!
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