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Private vs. Public Neighbor Nuisances

Private vs. Public Neighbor Nuisances

One of the benefits of owning real property is the right to reasonably use it as you please. However, this right is not unlimited. Nuisance laws balance your rights as a property owner with the rights of your neighbors and the community at large.

What is a nuisance?

There are two different types of nuisances: private nuisances and public nuisances. A private nuisance occurs whenever someone or something unreasonably interferes with your use or enjoyment of your property. For example, your neighbor’s dog barks all day and night, preventing you from sleeping—that’s a private nuisance.

In contrast, a public nuisance occurs when someone or something unreasonably interferes with the property rights of multiple people. Often, public nuisances threaten a community’s health, safety, or general welfare. For example, a nearby chemical plant lets toxic fumes drift over neighboring properties.

Property Owner Liability for Nuisance

Property owners can be liable for both public and private nuisances that originate from their property. This is true even if the nuisance is created by someone other than the owner, such as a tenant or guest. Property owner liability is very fact-specific, and often depends on the language of local ordinances regarding what does and does not constitute a nuisance. In contrast to a nuisance emanating from your property, we’ve previously discussed property owner liability for conditions on the property in our post on the Attractive Nuisance Doctrine.

What are examples of nuisances caused by neighbors?

Nuisance can involve anything that annoys, interferes, or discomforts the other party. Quite often, these “interferences” are stem from noises, lights, and odors. Common examples of nuisances caused by neighbors include:

• Noise from a music festival;

• Odors from livestock farms;

• Odors from a landfill;

• Light from a sports field;

• Odor from a septic tank;

• Noise and lights from a nearby bar;

• Noise from revving car engines;

• Noise from exterior speakers;

• Noise from a shooting range;

• Light from a cell phone tower; and

• Noise and odor from a dog kennel.

What can I recover if I sue my neighbor for nuisance?

If you are successful in a lawsuit against your neighbor, you may be able to recover:

• A court-issued injunction that orders your neighbor to stop whatever activity is causing the nuisance. Injunctions are legally enforceable, so your neighbor will be subject to fines and possibly jail time if he or she does not comply.

• Compensatory damages

• Future damages

• Medical bills

• Fees associated with stopping the nuisance, including attorneys’ fees

If a neighbor is unreasonably interfering with your enjoyment of your property, the experienced attorneys at McNeelyLaw may be able to help. Likewise, if you are being sued by your neighbor for a nuisance, the attorneys at McNeelyLaw can review your case to determine your best course of action.

This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.

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