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The difference between public and private nuisance

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2023 | Real Estate Litigation

The behavior of a neighbor can directly influence someone’s use of a property. For example, if a neighbor pollutes the soil or causes damage to a tree near a property line, those actions could negatively impact the resale value of adjacent properties.

There are laws in California that allow a property owner to take legal action when someone else damages the value of their property. In some cases, such scenarios could justify civil litigation. Private nuisances are grounds for a lawsuit filed against a neighboring property owner. Public nuisances are also potentially harmful to property values and could lead to prosecution.

What are the differences between public and private nuisances?

Private nuisances affect fewer people

The scope of impact is the main factor separating public and private nuisances. A private nuisance might involve someone engaging in rude or offensive behavior that impacts other people. A private nuisance is essentially the unreasonable or unlawful use of a property that interferes with a neighbor’s rights.

Actions that affect people’s health or their ability to use their own property as they see fit, like keeping a dangerous and aggressive dog unchained in the yard, could also constitute a private nuisance. Actions that are offensive to the senses, including making unpleasant odors or being visibly nude on private property, could also constitute a private nuisance. A reasonable person would generally need to agree that the behavior is offensive or inappropriate.

Public nuisances tend to affect multiple neighbors or the entire neighborhood. The impact on the multiple parties affected does not have to be exactly the same for conduct to constitute a public nuisance. Operating a drug house is a public nuisance, as is engaging and prostitution out of a residential property. Even loud parties that require police intervention late at night could be a form of public nuisance.

State prosecutors can bring charges against those who become public nuisances. Prosecution isn’t possible for private nuisance allegations in most cases, but litigation can be an option. Homeowners can file a lawsuit against an adjacent property owner whose actions affect their quiet enjoyment of their property or its potential resale value.

Ultimately, seeking legal guidance and learning more about the rules that govern real estate disputes between neighbors, including nuisance claims, may benefit those trying to navigate a difficult situation involving a neighbor.