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What are private nuisance claims?

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This week, as I went about my Sunday chores with the radio turned up, I was fascinated to hear that nuisance claims were being discussed on Radio 5. As a young lawyer specialising in this area of law, it was surprising to hear disputes between adjoining land owners being discussed on prime time radio.

Disputes between neighbours too often get tarred with the same brush – “neighbour disputes”. But this report went to show that disputes between neighbouring landowners often merit higher regard. Under the label of “environmental claims” the program discussed claims in private nuisance.

Private nuisance has been described as: “An act or omission which is an interference with or disturbance of or annoyance to a person in the exercise or enjoyment of his ownership or occupation of land or of some easement, profit or other right used or enjoyed in connection with land”. This is a very broad definition and nuisance can result from a very wide variety of causes. Smells, noise and noxious fumes to name a few, have all resulted in successful claims in nuisance. This is not a closed list but it is necessary to show:

  1. An unreasonable use of the defendant’s land; and
  2. An adverse effect on the claimant’s land.

In deciding whether the above test is satisfied the court will, in the absence of damage, attempt to strike a balance. It will consider factors such as:-

  • The location of the land
  • The duration of the nuisance
  • The nature of the claimant
  • The normal use of the land
  • The defendant’s intention

In particular the nature of the surrounding area will be of particular relevance. It was famously stated in Sturges v Bridgeman that "what would be a nuisance in Belgrave Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey”.

In cases involving nuisance the remedy will usually be an injunction to stop the activity complained of. For people living in close proximity to land causing nuisance this is vital. Nuisance cases often involve something particularly offensive. Smells, infestations and loud noises are all impossible to ignore. In such circumstances people become trapped in a home they cannot sell, unable to open a window or use the garden. In such cases, action is entirely justified.

Daniel Ralphson, Solicitor in the Dispute Resolution department

Stephensons has a team of dedicated lawyers, each specialising in this area of law. In many cases we can offer a fixed fee package to provide an advice on the merits of your case. If you have any questions regarding any of the issues raised we would be happy to hear from you.