It is not unusual for some neighbours to have irritating habits or cause occasional disruption, and in the vast majority of cases such matters are resolved amicably. However, when a neighbour has seriously interfered with your property rights or caused actual damage to your property, it is best to take professional advice as to your options.
Definition of “Nuisance”
A private nuisance occurs when a person (A) does something on their land, which is not unlawful in itself, but either:
Causes actual physical damage to neighbouring land owned by another (B), or
Unreasonably interferes with B’s property rights, causing loss of enjoyment of B’s property.
In both cases, the damage or interference must be either substantial or unreasonable in order for a claim to be successful.
In order to bring a claim in nuisance, you must have a proprietary right in the land that is affected by the nuisance. This means you must either be the owner of the land, or a tenant. If you were staying in a friend or family member’s property at the time of the incident, any resulting claims will therefore need to be brought by them rather than you.
Please note that this requirement does not apply to the person who has caused the nuisance; a claim will usually be brought against the occupier of the land in question at the time that the nuisance occurred.
Duty of Care
The law imposes a duty of care on all occupiers of land with regard to any potential hazard on their land, to the owners of neighbouring land. The standard of this duty is that the occupier of the land containing the potential hazard must do what is reasonable in their individual circumstances to prevent harm to the neighbouring property. In practice, this means that it must be reasonably foreseeable that the hazard could cause harm to the neighbouring landowner, or interfere with their property rights, and the steps that the occupier of the land containing the hazard should take must be reasonable as between the neighbours concerned.
Remedies for Harm
Where a nuisance is ongoing, the most common remedy is an injunction, ordering the person who is causing the nuisance to take steps to cease the impact on the person bringing the claim.
It is also possible to claim compensation for the harm that has already occurred. The level of compensation that can be claimed varies according to the type of harm that has been caused.
Where a nuisance has caused actual property damage, compensation will usually be payable for the cost of putting the damage right. If the land cannot be fully restored to its original condition, a claim can be brought for any resulting reduction in the value of the land. This will usually require a specialist report from a surveyor.
Where the harm is interference with property rights, the Court will conduct an exercise into establishing the standard of the rights from which the property should normally benefit. This will involve balancing such factors as the location, the duration of the nuisance, the time of day that the nuisance occurred, the frequency of the nuisance (where it is a repeated course of conduct), the claimant’s sensitivity to the particular nuisance, and whether the person causing the nuisance did so maliciously. Damages are then available for the interference with the rights that the Court determines should have been available to the property, rather than any individual harm to the landowner themselves.
It is not a defence to a nuisance claim for an occupier to argue that the nuisance was already happening when they moved into the property, if the harm to the neighbouring property was reasonably foreseeable or they had knowledge that it was occurring. Similarly, it is not usually possible to argue that a person bringing a claim moved into their property after the nuisance had begun.