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What is a Public Nuisance?

A nuisance is a problem created by someone else that negatively affects one or more people. When a nuisance unreasonably interferes with the public right to property, it can qualify as a public nuisance.

How is unreasonableness determined in nuisance cases?

  • The nature of the act or nuisance
  • The length of time the act or nuisance has been an issue
  • The effects of the act or nuisance on those affected

Criminal Acts

Public nuisance theory covers several wrongs under criminal law threatening the following in a community setting:

  • Morals
  • Welfare
  • Comfort
  • Convenience
  • Public health
  • Public Safety

Common-Law Tort

The private legal claim of nuisance falls under an area of law called “torts.”

Tort law covers civil claims that occur when:

  • Someone has a duty of care
  • They breach that duty of care
  • Someone suffers a personal injury or other harm
  • The breach of duty caused the harm

Tort law also includes negligence, false imprisonment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. While negligence is generally a separate claim, public nuisance cases can result from negligence.

Unreasonable Use of Property

Nuisances deal with the unreasonable, unlawful, or unwarranted use of property.

When others suffer harm by such a use, they could have a legal nuisance claim. If a nuisance occurs on a homeowner’s property without their involvement or knowledge, the property owner could still be liable.

Public Nuisance Examples

Examples of public nuisance claims include:

  • Storing explosives
  • Possession of one or more dangerous animals
  • Drug activity

Other examples of nuisance cases affecting the general public by limiting or preventing free use of property include:

  • Loud noises: Any noise complaints affecting the public by preventing them from enjoying themselves would fall under this category, including playing music loudly in public property setting, such as a public park.
  • Major Health Hazards: Examples include illegal commercial dumping resulting in pollution of a local waterway and overflowing trash cans.
  • Obstruction: Any act resulting in obstruction of free use of a public street is a public nuisance.

Public vs. Private Nuisance

Public nuisance law addresses actions that impact an entire community or many people. Private nuisance, however, addresses interference preventing the enjoyment of life and the use of real estate affecting one person.

Examples of private nuisance may include:

  • Pollution of a stream or soil
  • Smoke
  • Loud noises
  • Excessive light
  • Foul odors

Typically, private nuisance lawsuits result from the actions – or inactions – of one neighbor negatively affecting another.

Mental Tranquility

In some cases, only the threat resulting in the disturbance of mental peace and tranquility is needed for a private nuisance claim.

A private nuisance claim may exist, for example, if one neighbor has a vicious dog and their neighbor lives under the threat of injury.

Mixed Nuisances

Other types of nuisance claims include mixed and attractive nuisances.

A nuisance claim may qualify as both public and private. These instances are “mixed nuisance.”

If a person has a swimming pool in their backyard, they are legally required to prevent injury to children by putting up a fence as a reasonable precaution.

Penalties and Remedies

Offenders in public nuisance claims may face criminal charges. Offenders may face a fine or punishment with a criminal sentence. According to public nuisance law, both potential penalties may apply in some cases.

A judge also may grant injunctive relief. This action prevents the offender from continuing with the activity determined to be a public nuisance. Injunctive relief could include court-ordered changes, such as a judge ordering a company found guilty of illegal dumping in a local waterway to pay for cleanup.

Criminal Prosecution

Civil actions cannot be brought against public nuisance violators.

Public nuisance violators may face criminal charges for acting – or not acting – in a way that negatively affects the rights of an entire community of people.

If a private individual suffers harm more significant than or different than others resulting from a public nuisance, the injured party may maintain a tort action for the injuries or damages they suffered. This means that the injured person has the right to bring forth a lawsuit for the public nuisance that resulted in the harm or injury sustained.