Owning or renting property does not give an owner or leaseholder the right to do whatever he or she wants while on the property without any restrictions. County and municipal ordinances typically regulate what property owners and lessees may not do while enjoying their property. Sometimes a neighbor may cause a disturbance that rises to the level of a private nuisance and is therefore actionable in a court of law.
While trespass involves interference with one’s possessory interest, nuisance is an interference with one’s enjoyment and use of property. Throughout the United States, nuisances are typically classified as private or public. A private nuisance is an activity that does not involve physical trespass but still interferes with an individual’s reasonable use or enjoyment of property. Thus, some private interferences may rise to the level of a cause of action as a private nuisance.
A public nuisance is an activity that threatens public health, safety, welfare, or otherwise, does damage to community resources. The extent to which the community is affected by the activity determines whether a nuisance is public or private since public nuisances require many people to be affected by the interference. For example, the pollution of the town water supply is a public nuisance, and any injured parties, including government entities, may file a lawsuit.
Not every annoyance caused by a neighbor is a legal violation and having an attorney send a letter to a noisy neighbor may solve the problem. However, often anyone inconsiderate enough to cause a disturbance may be unmoved by a friendly cease and desist letter. For a private nuisance to be actionable in Pennsylvania, it must be shown that the activity is offensive, seriously annoying, or intolerable, thus constituting significant harm.
Personal annoyance and discomfort are not enough. There is no liability for a private nuisance unless the interference causes significant harm. According to the Restatement (Second) of Torts states that “significant harm is harm of importance, involving more than slight inconvenience or petty annoyance. The law does not concern itself with trifles, and in the case of a private nuisance, there must be a real and appreciable interference with the owner’s use or enjoyment of his land before he can have a cause of action.”
Also, the determination of significant harm is based on the opinion of a “normal person.” If normal persons living in the community would regard the encroachment of property as definitely offensive, seriously annoying, or intolerable, then the encroachment is significant.
Pennsylvania also allows punitive damages to be awarded for a private nuisance. Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of an evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others. In assessing punitive damages, a factfinder may consider the character of the person’s act, the nature and extent of the harm the person caused or intended to cause, and the wealth of the wrongdoer.
If you believe you have a claim for a private nuisance, contact Powell Law today. Powell Law has an established 115-year-old reputation throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. If you have any questions about filing a claim for damages caused by a public or private nuisance, contact Powell Law today at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE and you don’t pay a fee unless we win.