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What is a Legal Nuisance?

People talk about “nuisances” all the time, mostly in the sense of things they find annoying or irritating. However, there is a type of nuisance that rises to the level of an actionable legal claim – and people can sue (and be sued) when a legally recognized nuisance is created or maintained.

WHAT IS A LEGALLY RECOGNIZED NUISANCE?

In California, the official legal definition of a nuisance is found in Civil Code Section 3479. By law, a “nuisance” is anything which:

1. Is injurious to health;

2. Is indecent or offensive to the senses;

3. Is an obstruction to the free use of property (“so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property”); or

4. Is an unlawful obstruction of the free passage or customary use of any navigable lake, river, bay, stream, canal, basin, public park, square, street, or highway.

A defendant can be held liable for causing or maintaining a nuisance when the defendant acted intentionally, recklessly, negligently, or in an “ultrahazardous” manner – which essentially means that accidental or unintentional conduct is the only type of behavior that does not give rise to nuisance liability. Even then, if the accidental conduct was also negligent, the defendant may be liable.

WHO CAN SUE TO STOP A NUISANCE?

When it comes to private plaintiffs, generally, only people who have a possessory interest in land which is affected by a legally recognized nuisance. There are some exceptions, and situations where other people can also sue, but in most cases the plaintiff in a nuisance action is the owner (or renter) of property near the location of the nuisance whose ability to use his or her property is negatively impacted by the nuisance condition or the defendant’s behavior.

While not every annoyance involving property (or preventing the use of property) rises to the level of a legally-recognized, actionable nuisance, you should consult an attorney promptly if the behavior of another person (or the manner in which a neighbor uses or maintains his or her land) is creating a substantial interference with your use and enjoyment of your home or property you own or rent. Do not attempt to evaluate your own legal rights. Consult a lawyer without delay.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR THIS WEBSITE AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Nuisance claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a nuisance claim, have had a nuisance claim asserted against you, or are involved in any other type of legal claim or matter, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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