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An activity or state of affairs that interferes with the use or enjoyment of land or rights over land (private nuisance) or with the health, safety, or comfort of the public at large ( public nuisance). Private nuisance is a tort, protecting occupiers of land from damage to the land, buildings, or vegetation or from unreasonable interference with their comfort or convenience by excessive noise, dust, fumes, smells, etc. An action is only available to persons who have property rights (e.g. owners, lessees) or exclusive occupation. Thus, for example, lodgers and members of a property owner's family cannot sue in private nuisance (Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd [1997] AC 655 (HL).

Physical damage is actionable when the damage is of a type that is reasonably foreseeable and provided it does not arise solely because the claimant has put his land to a hypersensitive use. Interference with comfort is actionable when it is considered unreasonable as judged by a number of factors, the most important of which is the nature of the locality. The main remedies are damages and an injunction. Alternatively there is a limited right to abate (i.e. remove) the nuisance. Where a statutory framework and remedy exist, there is no common-law action in nuisance and such a regulatory scheme is compliant with the Human Rights Act 1998 (Marcic v Thames Water Utilities Ltd [2003] UKHL 66, [2004] 2 AC 42).

Public nuisance is a crime. At common law it includes such activities as obstruction of the highway, carrying on an offensive trade, and selling food unfit for human consumption. The Attorney General or a local authority may bring a civil action for an injunction on behalf of the public but a private citizen may obtain damages in tort only if he can prove some special damage over and above that suffered by the public at large.

Statutory nuisances are created by provisions dealing with noise, public health, and the prevention of pollution and permit a local authority to control neighbourhood nuisances by the issue of an abatement notice. The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and also the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 (s 42A) enable individuals to be prevented from harassing their neighbours (see nuisance neighbours).

Subjects: Law

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