A nuisance is any human activity or physical condition on someone's property that is harmful, indecent or offensive, or that interferes with someone else's use and enjoyment of his or her property. A nuisance can either be “public” or “private” (learn more about private and public nuisance). In this article, we'll discuss the legal remedies that are available if you've been harmed by a private nuisance.
Remedies Available for Private Nuisance
If your use or enjoyment of property is harmed because of the acts or omissions of another person, you may be able to recover money damages, an injunction against the continuance of the nuisance, or both. You may also have a right to self-help.
To be able to sue someone for a private nuisance, you have to have standing, or the legal right to sue. Only an individual whose personal use or enjoyment of property is harmed may bring an action. This means that you have to have a property interest in the land. A property interest can include outright ownership of the land, as well as an interest for a term, such as a tenant of an apartment building.
To recover money damages, you do not always need to show an injury, or even a decrease in the value, to your property. This is because the definition of nuisance includes human activities that are indecent or offensive to the senses. This includes a dangerous condition that you are afraid will injure you.
Measure of Damages. Generally, the measure of damages for a private nuisance is compensation for the loss or injury sustained (i.e., the diminution of property value caused by the nuisance). However, if the nuisance is only temporary, the measure of damages is the value of the interference to your use and enjoyment of the land caused by the nuisance plus any special damages. Special damages can include reasonable costs for removing the nuisance, loss of business or profits, or for personal discomfort, inconvenience, annoyance, etc. You might also be entitled to punitive damages if the defendant’s actions are particularly egregious.
Abatement and "Balancing of the Hardships"
In addition to money damages, you may also wish to abate a private nuisance by removing or destroying it completely. The traditional method for abating a nuisance is an injunction. An injunction is a court order that requires the other party to do or refrain from doing a specific act or acts. To receive an injunction, you must be able to show that you will suffer irreparable harm if the nuisance continues.
Courts use a balancing test to determine whether or not your potential injury outweighs the harm caused to the defendant by prohibiting them from continuing the activity that constitutes a nuisance. This is called a balancing of the hardships. If, by granting the injunction, the harm caused to you is minimal and the harm caused to the defendant is great, then the court will likely deny the injunction and grant you money damages only.
A person who has been harmed by a nuisance can also engage in self-help. Self-help means that you are permitted to remove or destroy the nuisance, if you can do so without unnecessarily harming anyone or anything, or without breaching the peace. However, if you have to go onto someone else’s property to stop the nuisance, you may have to give reasonable notice. Engaging in self-help will not foreclose you from seeking judicial remedies.