The Law of Nuisance and How it Affects You

If there is one trait English people are renowned all over the world for, it is their courtesy. When you share an island three times smaller than Texas with 65 million people, it is necessary to be highly considerate of others, or else anarchy would reign in the streets.

Therefore, the right of citizens to enjoy their property and go about their business without interference or a ‘nuisance’ caused by another party spoiling their pleasure is a right the English hold dear.

This blog will explain what constitutes a private and public nuisance, how to make and prove a claim, the burden of proof required and finally, any defences available to an individual or organisation if it alleged that their actions are causing a nuisance.

What is the Definition of a Nuisance?

Nuisance is a common-law tort which can be classed as either private or public.  This article is primarily concerned with private nuisance.

Private Nuisance

A private nuisance is a land-based tort.  It involves one party using their property in an unreasonable, unlawful or unwarranted way, which subsequently interferes with another person’s enjoyment or use of their property.

Naturally, a majority of nuisance disputes involves neighbours.

Public Nuisance

A public nuisance occurs if an act by an individual, government body or corporation negatively affects the public as a whole in terms of health, welfare, safety, morals, comfort or convenience.  A public nuisance is a criminal offence, however, if the public nuisance has affected an individual in a way that is over and above how the general public was affected, then they may have a claim in the law of tort for damages.

Proving Nuisance

In order to bring a claim for nuisance, the plaintiff must show that:

  • There was continuous interference;
  • That the interference was unlawful; and
  • The intrusion interfered with the claimant’s use of or enjoyment of the land or some right over it.

Exception – Strict Liability and the rule in Ryland v Fletcher

Decided in 1868, the case of Ryland v Fletcher still creates controversy.  The rule states, "the person who for his own purpose brings on his lands and collects and keeps there anything likely to do mischief, if it escapes, must keep it in at his peril, and if he does not do so, is prima facie answerable for all the damage which is the natural consequence of its escape".

According to this rule, if you were to bring a noxious substance onto your land and it escapes into your neighbour’s property and causes damage, you neighbour would only have to prove that you had the substance on your property and it escaped.  This is called strict liability.


There are two main defences to the allegation of private nuisance.  They are:

  • Prescription
  • Statutory Authority


If the defendant can show that they have been carrying on the alleged nuisance for 20 years or more, with no interruption or challenge, they can claim that they have acquired a prescriptive right to continue with the activity.

Statutory Authority

If the defendant can show that they have a right, either express or implied, by statute to carry on the activity, and they can show the nuisance caused by this activity is inevitable, they will have a valid defence against the allegation of nuisance.

Remedies and Limitation Periods

The remedies for nuisance are:

  • An award of damages
  • A granting of an injunction against the defendant
  • The right to abatement or self-help 

It is important not to delay seeking legal advice as there is a limitation period on the ability to bring about a claim for nuisance.  You must bring about an action within six years from the time in which the event took place.

As the population keeps growing and the need for people to live in greater proximity to one and other continues, people have greater opportunities to annoy their neighbours with noise, smells and unreasonable practices which can destroy the unfortunate neighbour’s enjoyment of their property.  When deciding on nuisance cases, the courts must strike a delicate balance between the rights of one person to do what he or she likes on their own property, and the right of another to enjoy their property in peace.

To find a local solicitor to provide legal advice on a nuisance matter, please search through Solicitors Guru today.

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