Private nuisance

The continuous, unlawful and indirect interference with the use or enjoyment of land, or of some right over or in connection with it.

The tort of private nuisance may be defined as the unlawful and indirect interference with a person's use or enjoyment of land in which they have an interest. The tort has developed over a long period of time and exists in common law.

Lord Lloyd in Hunter and Others v. Canary Wharf Ltd (1997) stated that private nuisances are of three kinds. They are

(1) nuisance by encroachment on a neighbour's land;

(2) nuisance by direct physical injury to a neighbour's land;

(3) nuisance by interference with a neighbour's quiet enjoyment of his land.

It is often easier to explain what amounts to a private nuisance by giving an example of what has been held to amount to an indirect interference. In Sturges v Bridgman (1879) noise was held to be sufficient nuisance. The facts of the case were that a doctor moved next door to a confectioner. The confectioner had produced sweets for sale in his kitchen for many years. The doctor used his own property for private practice. However, the loud noises from the confectioner's industrial equipment could be clearly heard and this disrupted his use and enjoyment of his land.


The locality of the area may be a material consideration and what may be acceptable in one area may not be in another. This point was made clear in Sturges v Bridgman by the now famous words 'What would be a nuisance in Belgravia Square would not necessarily be so in Bermondsey.......'


Some nuisances may result in damage and some may cause an interference with comfort or enjoyment of land. In Halsey v Esso Petroleum (1961) the defendant company's actions disturbed a neighbour's sleep by causing noise and vibrations as well as damaging clothes from acid smuts.


Some interference is to be expected perhaps, and the courts have determined that for a private nuisance to exist, the interference needs to be unlawful and unreasonable. In addition we have already seen that the courts will give consideration to certain factors such as the locality as in Sturges v Bridgman (1879).


There are other considerations such as the duration of the interference as in Spicer v Smee (1946), or abnormal sensitivity as in Robinson v Kilvert (1889). In this latter case the court held that the claimant was not entitled to a remedy on the basis that he was particularly sensitive to the potential nuisance. The facts were that the claimant's landlord maintained the heat in his cellar at 80ºF (27ºC) temperature for the purposes of his business. The heat affected a paper warehouse business conducted by a tenant on a floor above. The court held that the landlord's use of the cellar was reasonable.


In Christie v Davey (1893) the presence of malice on the part of the defendant was a material factor. The claimant alleged that he had been giving music lessons in his semi-detached house for several years. The defendant, acting out of malice because he was irritated by the noise, banged on the walls, shouted, blew whistles and beat tin trays with the malicious intention of not only annoying his neighbour but also spoiling the music lessons. The court granted an injunction to restrain the defendant's behaviour.


Describe and illustrate the law of private nuisance.

'the tort of private nuisance is ineffective and has little relevance in the modern law of torts.' discuss the tort of private nuisance in light of the above statement.

Aqa a2 law student unit guide: criminal law (offences against property) and law of tort: unit 4 (sections a & b) (aqa a2 law student guide)(paperback)

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