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What is a nuisance?


A nuisance is any annoyance, inconvenience, or harm that substantially and continually interferes with the enjoyment/use of your property. A private nuisance interferes with the rights of specific people without any actual physical trespass to their property (e.g. your neighbor continually dumps trash in his backyard, which keeps you from enjoying your own backyard because of the unpleasant smells). A public nuisance is something that works on a wider scale; for instance it endangers the health or safety of the public in general. Nuisance lawsuits are generally between neighbors, or between a public official and a property owner for the benefit of the general public. The plaintiff usually seeks to stop the source of the nuisance, usually by requesting limiting factors (e.g. cutting down on the number of hours the nuisance is happening) or asking that the nuisance be prohibited altogether.

Court considerations

When deciding nuisance cases, a court examines where the nuisance is occurring, reviews the zoning restrictions that apply, and tries to balance the interests of both the plaintiff and the defendant for the most efficient resolution.


All areas of land are divided into zones, such as residential, commercial or industrial zones. Generally speaking, residential zones are where most homes are located, commercial zones are for businesses, and industrial zones are for operations such as factories. If the source of a nuisance is in its appropriate zone, then it’s possible there will not be grounds for a lawsuit. For example, if a factory is operating in an industrial zone, nearby residents may have a weaker claim to sue. However, a court sometimes may find that even if properly zoned, the nuisance may pose substantial damage to the interests of nearby property owners.

Balancing interests

A court generally tries to weigh the interests of both the plaintiff and the defendant when reaching a resolution. Courts also weigh the benefits a nuisance offers, if any. For example, if a local after-school youth community center causes increased pollution and noise to the nearby property owners, a court might decide that the overall value the center gives to the community is greater than the hardship experienced by the property owners. If the source of the nuisance is a business, a court will usually try to find the most efficient answer to the problem so that the business doesn’t suffer economic detriment.

Moving to the nuisance

Additionally, in cases where a person knowingly purchases property near an operation that causes a nuisance, a court may decide that the person doesn’t have a case because they made the choice to get into that situation and therefore do not have the right to complain.

How to deal with a nuisance

Lawsuits are often expensive and time consuming, so it is well worth it to explore other solutions first.

  • Talk to your neighbor. You can bring a witness. A judge will look more favorably on your case if you attempted to work it out yourselves before filing suit. When speaking with your neighbor, express how the nuisance makes you feel in a calm and polite way. Smile and be kind if you can, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  • Ignore it. Weigh whether the nuisance is worth it, and whether you want to go through the effort of a lawsuit.

Filing a nuisance claim

  • Contact an attorney if you want to move forward with a lawsuit. Document the nuisance and your attempts. If your neighbor refuses to talk with you, keep this on record. If the situation warrants calling the police, the police report will be valuable evidence, as well as any pictures, video, or audio recordings of the nuisance.
  • Determine the correct court to file suit in. If the nuisance is minor, the proper court may be small claims. If the nuisance is longstanding, a trial court may be appropriate. Bringing in an attorney to help you decide may also alert your neighbor that you are serious and may spur them to end the nuisance without going to court.
  • File the complaint. Most states require three copies of the complaint and court summons. The clerk will stamp these and give you one for yourself and one for the defendant.
  • Deliver the order. It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to send a physical copy of the order to the defendant. In most states you may do this by mail or via another person. Most states do not allow the plaintiff to personally give the order to the defendant. Usually the plaintiff must file a proof of service document after sending the defendant’s copy of the order.
  • You can also try to settle out of court. Once the lawsuit is filed, you do not have to go forward with it if both parties are able to reach an agreement through other channels.

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