Private Nuisance

What is meant by private nuisance?

Private nuisance is a continuous, unlawful and indirect interference with the use or enjoyment of land, or of some right over or in connection with land. It is a civil wrong that can give rise to a legal claim against the person committing the nuisance.

Private nuisance is concerned with the effect on someone else’s land, not personal harm; for instance, sewage leaking from land onto a neighbour’s land, or noisy neighbours causing a nuisance to others.

Requirements

The law relating to private nuisance has been developed by case law. To prove a private nuisance has occurred (or is occurring) the following must be present:

  • Continuous interference;
  • Unlawful or unreasonable interference;
  • Interference of the use or enjoyment of land or some right over it.

Continuous interference

For the interference to be continuous it must be over a certain period of time, but not necessarily be throughout the entire day. In one case, noisy and dusty pile driving machinery was held to be a nuisance when it was operated at night.

The period of time required can be very short period. For example, a firework display constituted a nuisance when it was inevitable that for 15 to 20 minutes debris of a flammable nature would fall on nearby property, damaging the property in the ensuing fire.

Unlawful interference

The behaviour (or omission) causing the alleged nuisance must also have amounted to unlawful or unreasonable interference with the claimant’s land. People therefore using their property so as not to injure their neighbours will be said to be using it lawfully.

The following factors will be taken into account when assessing the reasonableness of the conduct:

  • The locality;
  • The sensitivity of the claimant;
  • The utility of the defendant’s conduct;
  • The state of the defendant’s land.
Locality

In a famous quote from a landmark nuisance case, the judge said: “What would be regarded as a nuisance in Belgravia Square would not necessarily be regarded as a nuisance in Bermondsey” (Sturges v Bridgman (1879) LR 11 Ch D 852). Location of the property is a key issue in considering what would reasonably be expected to occur in that area.

Sensitivity of the claimant

When looking at the claimant the standard applied is that of a tolerant neighbour, so an unusually sensitive neighbour is less likely to win a nuisance claim. However, if the act complained of would be regarded as a nuisance by a tolerant neighbour whose property is of a normal nature, then it is likely to be found to be nuisance.

Utility of defendant’s conduct

If an activity is said to be for the community as a whole, it is unlikely to amount to a nuisance; for example, where building work or road works are being carried out at reasonable times of the day. The benefit of these activities is for the community at large or other people, and cannot in law be treated as a private nuisance.

If, however, road works are carried out at night in an urban area when they could be done without major disruption during waking hours, it is likely they will be liable for a private nuisance.

State of the defendant’s land

This is particularly important when concerned with hazards on the defendant’s land. The defendant must take reasonable steps to prevent or minimise dangers to adjoining land caused by natural hazards on his own land.

For example, if someone owns land on which there is a large mound of earth that is being slowly eroded by the weather and sliding on to the adjoining land, they must take reasonable steps to prevent the mound sliding on to his neighbour’s land.

Interference of the use or enjoyment of land or some right over it

The claimant must prove:

  • Physical damage to the land itself;
  • Damage to health which impairs the use or enjoyment of the land – such as headaches caused by noise which prevents that person enjoying their land.

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For more information on:

  • Examples of damage caused
  • Can I make a claim for private nuisance?
  • Can I be held liable for private nuisance?
  • Landlords
  • What defences are available for a claim of private nuisance?
  • Prescription
  • Statutory authority
  • Coming to the nuisance is no defence
  • What remedies are available?