Nuisance Law: Substantially Harming the Landowner
In property law, a nuisance is an unreasonable interference with a person’s use and enjoyment of her property. Even if an activity is unreasonable, it must cause substantial harm in order to be a nuisance. As with the determination that an activity is unreasonable, courts consider all the relevant circumstances to decide whether the activity causes substantial harm. These circumstances may include the following:
The activity significantly impairs the market value of the property.
The activity causes physical injury, illness, or mental suffering to the plaintiff.
The more frequent and longer lasting the harm, the more substantial it is.
The activity prevents basic or important uses of the plaintiff’s land.
Avoiding the harm of the activity is difficult and expensive.
Causing or maintaining a nuisance is a tort. Liability doesn’t depend upon breach of a duty of care, however. Regardless of how careful the defendant or how much she acted in good faith, if she unreasonably interferes with another’s use and enjoyment of his land and causes substantial harm, she’s liable for a nuisance and the plaintiff is entitled to relief.
The plaintiff who proves a nuisance is entitled to an award of damages for the injuries that the nuisance has caused her. If the nuisance has permanently damaged the land, the plaintiff can recover the lost market value of her property.
If the nuisance and its harms stop, the plaintiff can recover the lost rental value of the property during the time the nuisance was in effect. The plaintiff can also recover damages for personal injuries, such as illness, injury, distress, and discomfort. If the nuisance caused the plaintiff to lose profits, she can recover her lost profits, too.
The successful plaintiff may also get an injunction from the court ordering the defendant to stop maintaining the nuisance. If possible, an injunction won’t enjoin the defendant’s activity altogether; it will enjoin only the specific aspects of the activity that cause the unreasonable interference and substantial harm. For example, the court may order that the defendant can’t conduct her activities during certain hours.
A court won’t issue an injunction, however, if the resulting hardship to the defendant and the community would greatly outweigh the benefit to the plaintiff. For example, some cases have held industrial activities to be nuisances but refused to enjoin them because of the large economic injuries that the community would suffer compared to the relatively small injuries of discomfort and inconvenience suffered by the plaintiffs.
In such cases, the court instead awards damages for the permanently impaired market value of the plaintiffs’ property.