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Land-Use Control


NUISANCE is an unreasonable, unwarranted, or illegal use by an individual of his or her own property, that in some way injures the rights of others. A nuisance action ordinarily arises between two neighboring landowners or is brought by a government attorney. The person initiating the nuisance action seeks to control or limit the use of the land that is creating the nuisance. Nuisance is based on the principle that no one has the right to use property in a manner such as to injure a neighbor.

A private nuisance arises when there is an interference with the use or QUIET ENJOYMENT of land without an actual TRESPASS or physical invasion. For example, A might sue B, alleging that constant loud noises by B amount to a nuisance to A and A's property, which may or may not adversely affect other property in the area.

A public nuisance extends further than a private nuisance, since it adversely affects the health, morals, safety, welfare, comfort, or convenience of the general public. Statutes in many states precisely define what constitutes a public nuisance. Common examples are water and AIR POLLUTION, the storage of explosives under dangerous conditions, houses of prostitution, the emission of bad odors or loud noises, and the obstruction of public ways.

A nuisance can be both private and public, since certain activities may be sufficient to constitute a public nuisance while still substantially interfering with the use of the adjoining land to such a degree that a landowner may sue on the ground that a private nuisance is present. Private nuisance refers to the property interest affected, as opposed to the type of conduct.

Noise Dust Smells But Not a Nuisance

Homeowners have a legitimate right to the QUIET ENJOYMENT of their property. Nevertheless, when that quiet enjoyment is disturbed by the activities of another property owner, it may be difficult to have those activities declared a private or public NUISANCE.

In Karpiak v. Russo, 450 Pa. Super. 471, 676 A.2d 270 (1996), the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a landscaping supply business that produced dust, loud noises, and unpleasant smells in an area that contained homes as well as businesses was not a private nuisance. The decision illustrates the need for those complaining of a nuisance to prove significant harm.

The landscaping supply company was established in 1984, when the ZONING law classified the location as business property. The area was rezoned in 1993, making the area residential. The company sold topsoil, shredded bark, compost, sand, and river rock from spring to late fall. Nearby homeowners complained of dust blowing into their yard and home; noise from trucks, backhoes, and payloaders; and smells from the compost.

The court rejected these claims of nuisance. It first noted that the company had lawfully complied with the zoning ordinance at the time it started the business. There were other businesses on the same street. Just because the neighborhood had been rezoned did not prohibit the continued existence of the landscape business.

More significantly, the court found that none of the complaining parties had suffered any significant harm. Most of the parties worked weekdays and were absent from the neighborhood when the landscape business was in operation. Aside from one person who had to clean his car and outside furniture, no one claimed any damages from the operation of the business. The court concluded that occasional personal discomfort or annoyance did not establish a serious level of harm that could be defined as a private nuisance. People who reside in neighborhoods with businesses close by will sometimes find their comfort subordinated to the commercial needs of business.

Nuisances may occur in rural as well as urban areas, but they become more obvious when the area is well established as residential in nature. The fact that an activity of a certain type is permitted in an area under the zoning ordinance does not mean that it may not be stopped if it develops into a nuisance. If an otherwise legitimate activity threatens the health or safety of the community in general, it can be classified as a public nuisance. Usually, however, very little relief is available for someone who intentionally locates in an industrial area.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Labor Department - Employment And Training Administration to Legislative PowerLand-Use Control - Private Land-use Restrictions, The Master Plan And Official Map, Planned Communities: Read The Fine Print