What is Public Nuisance?

Public nuisance is traditionally a criminal offence and is an unlawful act or omission that endangers or interferes with the lives, comfort, property or common rights of the public. Though a criminal offence, a public nuisance can also give rise to a civil claim for damages.

What is Private Nuisance?

Private nuisance is any continuous activity or state of affairs that causes a substantial and unreasonable interference with the legal rights of the owner of land to use or enjoy the land.

Private nuisance is usually divided into three general categories of nuisance:

  • Encroachment;
  • Interference; and,
  • Physical injury.

Case law confirms these categories are merely examples of violations of property rights. 


The law imposes a general duty of care between neighbouring occupiers of land. The purpose of the tort of nuisance is to protect the landowner (or a person entitled to exclusive possession) in their use and enjoyment of the land. It is not in place to protect the value of property as an investment or a financial asset.

How does it apply?

Private nuisance is usually caused by a landowner doing something lawful on their land that becomes a nuisance when the action extends onto a neighbours land. It can be caused by a positive action or by inaction / omission.

You can be liable if you fail to use reasonable means to bring a nuisance to an end, where you have actual or presumed knowledge of it and ample time to do so. You can also be held liable if you fail to take reasonable action to remove a hazard on your land, if you are aware of it and there is a foreseeable risk that it would damage a neighbour’s land and it does go on to damage it.

The damage or interference with the enjoyment of the neighbour’s land:

  • Must be substantial or unreasonable.
  • Can arise from a single incident or a “state of affairs”.

Physical damage is not necessary for an interference to be actionable at law, as damages may be awarded for the loss of the land’s intangible amenity value.

How can I bring a claim?

You can bring civil proceedings for:

  • Injunctive relief – an order to stop the nuisance and to prevent its recurrence; and/or,
  • Damages to compensate for your loss and interference with your property rights.

What defences could apply?

  • Limitation: a claim has to be issued in six years from the accrual of the cause of action;
  • Reasonable user: an objective bystander would consider and tolerate the nuisance;
  • Laches: a delay in asserting your rights to claim could be held against you;
  • Prescription: if a private nuisance continues for 20 years, it becomes legal if it is continuous and the party bringing the claim has been aware;
  • Statutory authority – if an activity has been authorised by legislation, this defends it from causing a public or private nuisance.

The broad principle in the law on nuisance is reasonableness between neighbours. If you want advice on nuisance or any property litigation matters, please contact LF Legal on 0203 146 3549 /

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