Nuisance in the United States

A condition, activity, or situation that interferes with the use or enjoyment of property. Anything done by one which annoys or disturbs another in the free use, possession, or enjoyment of his property, or which renders its ordinary use or occupation physically uncomfortable.

The law has long recognized that an owner of land does not have an absolute or unlimited right to use the land in a way which injures the rights of others. The rights of neighboring landowners are relative; the uses by one must not unreasonably impair the uses or enjoyment of the other. In Abdella v. Smith, 34 Wis. 2d 393, 399, 149 N.W.2d 537 (1967), the court quoted with approval Dean Prosser’s description of the judicial balancing of the reciprocal rights and privileges of neighbors in the use of their land: ‘Most of the litigation as to private nuisance has dealt with the conflicting interests of landowners and the question of the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct: The defendant’s privilege of making a reasonable use of his own property for his own benefit and conducting his affairs in his own way is no less important than the plaintiff’s right to use and enjoy his premises. The two are correlative and interdependent, and neither is entitled to prevail entirely, at the expense of the other. Some balance must be struck between the two.

The plaintiff must be expected to endure some inconvenience rather than curtail the defendant’s freedom of action, and the defendant must so use his own property that he causes no unreasonable harm to the plaintiff. The law of private nuisance is very largely a series of adjustments to limit the reciprocal rights and privileges of both. In every case the court must make a comparative evaluation of the conflicting interests according to objective legal standards, and the gravity of the harm to the plaintiff must be weighed against the utility of the defendant’s conduct.’ Prosser, Law of Torts, sec. 89, p. 596 (2d ed. 1971) (Citations omitted). VI-A American Law of Property sec. 28.22, pp. 64-65 (1954). When one landowner’s use of his or her property unreasonably interferes with another’s enjoyment of his or her property, that use is said to be a private nuisance. Hoene v. Milwaukee, 17 Wis. 2d 209, 214, 116 N.W.2d 112 (1962); Metzger v. Hochrein, 107 Wis. 267, 269, 83 N.W. 308 (1900). See also Prosser, Law of Torts sec. 89, p. 591 (2d ed. 1971).

Main source: Dean’s Law Dictionary.

Plain-English Law

Nuisance as defined by Nolo’s Encyclopedia of Everyday Law (p. 437-455):

Something that interferes with the use of property by being irritating, offensive, obstructive, or dangerous. Nuisances include a wide range of conditions, from a chemical plant’s noxious odors to a neighbor’s dog barking.

Practical Information

Note: Some of this information was last updated in 1982

In tort law, a wrong to another party arising from any unreasonable and annoying inconvenience or damage that is usually recurring and consistent.

(Revised by Ann De Vries)

What is Nuisance?

For a meaning of it, read Nuisance in the Legal Dictionary here. Browse and search more U.S. and international free legal definitions and legal terms related to Nuisance.

Nuisance in Environmental Law

Interference with the right to peaceably enjoy the use of one’s property. In environmental law, the term nuisance is used as a legal theory to force compensation and to stop the interference. It is a very old theory, dating back to the early British judicial system, but has been used successfully in certain situations. The most widely publicized recent use was by the state of New York to clean up and compensate for the pollution at Love Canal.

A nuisance may be public or private. A public nuisance affects the community, so the proper person to bring a lawsuit for a public nuisance is the government. The only time an individual can sue for a public nuisance is when he or she has suffered a peculiar injury, that is, one not suffered by the public at large. Private nuisances interfere with an individual’s rights.

An example of a public nuisance is contamination of groundwater. The problem is widespread, affecting the water supply of the whole community, and interferes with the ability of the government to provide water for the citizens. Therefore, the government has the right to sue the person responsible for the contamination. A private nuisance is, for example, the contamination of a private well due to migration of pollution from another property. The individual who owns the well involved could sue for a private nuisance because the injury affects only that person.

Many statutes address contamination, but they do not always authorize a lawsuit. If they do not, the person injured may have to rely on older legal theories. The basis of such lawsuits is a tort, a civil wrong that deals with injuries to personal or public entitlements. Using tort theories increases the likelihood of payment for environmental harm. See also negligence; strict liability; toxic tort; trespass.

In environmental law, the theories used as a basis for a lawsuit sometimes overlap. Some nuisances, such as abnormally loud noises, can only be considered nuisances, since nothing physical remains on the property; others, such as a poisoned well or chemical dust falling on a roof, can also be called trespass.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.

Nuisance Definition in History

A nuisance is anything that unlawfully (produced) hurt, inconvenience, or damage. (…) Any offensive erection, which, from its nature, may be an annoyance, and from its situation actually becomes so, is a nuisance.

Public Nuisance

Such an inconvenience or troublesome offense as annoys the whole community in general, and not merely some particular person. (…) Such an annoyance as infringes on rights common to the public. (…) Some considerable portion of the community must be affected, for while that is a public nuisance which injures generally such citizens as may be so circumstanced as to come within its influence (…) , it must be in a public place, where members of the community are liable to come within its influence (…). The test is not the number of persons annoyed, but the possibility of invasion of the public rights. (..)

Private Nuisance

Anything done or maintained whereby special annoyance or injury is done to another. A public nuisance may be private, as well, and such have been termed “mixed nuisances.” (…) The exact amount of annoyance or inconvenience necessary to constitute a private nuisance has never been settled. In general terms, the injury should cause an inconvenience “materially interfering with the ordinary comfort, physically, of human existence; not merely according to elegant or dainty modes and habits of living, but according to plain, sober, and simple notions.” (…) The filling of the air with smoke or noxious vapor, to the detriment of health (…), or with noisome odors (…), the production of great noise and clangor in a quiet neighborhood (…), the maintenance of excessive heat, rendering adjoining premises uninhabitable (…), the keeping of explosives or inflammable substances (…), are well-recognized forms of private nuisance. (1)

Nuisance meaning

Unreasonable unlawful or unwarranted use of one’s property such that it injures or obstructs the rights of another. Nuisances can be the basis for an injunction (see the entry). Nuisances may be public, private, or mixed. Public nuisances interfere with the rights of all though possibly to a different degree. (Kelley v. New York, 6 Misc. 516, 27 N.Y.S. 164.) Private nuisances interfere with the rights of a single individual or a very few persons. (Mandell v. Pasquaretto, 76 Misc.2d 405, 350 N.Y.S.2d 561, 566; pur Industries, Inc. v. Del E. Webb Development Co., 108 Ariz. 178, 494 P.2d 700, 705.) Mixed nuisances do both, for example the defendants polluting activity creates both noxious odors, a public nuisance, and destroys the fish in a private lake owned by one person, a private nuisance.

It is possible for plaintiff to prevail on causes of action for public nuisance and for negligence where it has suffered economic loss, but no personal or property damage.

Herman v. Cardon, 23 Ariz.App. 78, 530 P.2d 1115, 1118.
Awad v. McColgan, 357 Mich. 386, 98 N.W.2d 571, 573.

Basic Meaning of Nuisance

Nuisance means: a landowner’s use of property which interferes with the public or another landowner’s use of his property.



1. This definition of Nuisance is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary .

See Also

Land-Use Control; .

Further Reading (Articles)

Nuisance Law and Agricultural Operations in Indiana. Mondaq Business Briefing; April 8, 2005

Public nuisance: a new battleground for policyholders and insurers: the current wave of public nuisance-based tort litigation is focused on two areas, lead paint and global warming.(SPECIAL REPORT: CLAIMS), Risk & Insurance; April 1, 2008; Wilson, Donna L. Kanemitsu, Marla H.

Nuisance, Encyclopaedia Judaica; January 1, 2007; Albeck, Shalom Elon, Menachem

Nuisance Update.(Environmental Protection Act 1990), Mondaq Business Briefing; February 23, 2012

Public Nuisance: Offence against people, The New Nation (Dhaka, India); July 11, 2009

Cooling off Public Nuisance Claims, Mondaq Business Briefing; October 15, 2012

Controlling Public Health Nuisances: Guidelines for Local Health Departments, Journal of Environmental Health; November 1, 1993; Holmes, Karen A. Church, Ryan

The Misuse of Public Nuisance Law to Address Climate Change, Defense Counsel Journal; April 1, 2011; Shelson, James W.

Can Public Nuisance Law Protect Your Neighborhood from Big Banks?, Suffolk University Law Review; January 1, 2011; Lind, Kermit J.

Race nuisance: the politics of law in the Jim Crow era. Michigan Law Review; December 1, 2006; Godsil, Rachel D.

Tort of Public Nuisance in Public Entity Litigation: Return to the Jungle? in the Wake of the Tobacco Settlement, Public Entities Have Seized on This Neither Warranted nor Appropriate Action to Avoid Product Liability Law, Defense Counsel Journal; October 1, 2002; Handler, Lauren E. Erway, Charles E.,, III

Keeping Pigs out of Parlors: Using Nuisance Law to Affect the Location of Pollution, Environmental Law; June 22, 1997; Heimert, Andrew Jackson

A new strategy: Razing nuisances, raising hopes ; The focus has switched away from renovation, yet the number of problem structures continues to rise. Dayton Daily News (Dayton, OH); December 2, 2007; Joanne Huist Smith and Ken McCall Staff Writers

DeAndrea Wants to Strengthen Nuisance Property Ordinance, Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA); August 22, 2013; Galski, Sam

Reconceptualizing the Law of Nuisance through a Theory of Economic Captivity, Albany Law Review; September 22, 2011; Smith, George P., II Saunig, Matthew

The investigation and abatement of nuisance properties. Prosecutor, Journal of the National District Attorneys Association; January 1, 2011; Stephens, Adam B.


Another Nuisance Theory Fails to Fly, Defense Counsel Journal; January 1, 2002

Bad Smells – An Actionable Nuisance?(nuisance cases), Mondaq Business Briefing; March 27, 2012

NUISANCE WILDLIFE CONTROL OPERATORS SOUGHT FOR LIST, US Fed News Service, Including US State News; October 9, 2006






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