What is the legal definition of a nuisance?

An older sibling may call their younger sibling a nuisance when the latter messes with the former's possessions or otherwise terrorizes them with their pestering and chides. In effect, the sibling accused of being a nuisance has disrupted the enjoyment of the other's day and has caused them to suffer emotional distress. This simple example closely follows what it means for a nuisance to exist in the realm of land use law and will be further developed throughout this post.

Nuisances in the world of land use range in severity and scope. A private nuisance is one that exists between neighbors. If, for example, a person chooses to play loud music each night that disrupts their neighbor's sleep, the affected neighbor may claim that the other's actions are a nuisance. Since the noise generated by the acting neighbor does not touch the affected party's land, it is not a trespass.

However, when a land owner creates a nuisance that affects many in the community and that could harm their health or welfare, the nuisance may become public. When this happens municipalities can sue to stop land use offenders from allowing their behaviors to affect and harm others around them.

A nuisance is more than a one-off annoyance between individuals that share a fence line. It is disruptive behavior or actions that impact the enjoyment that property owners derive from using their own land. As with all matters that are addressed on this New Jersey legal blog, readers with nuisance and land use questions should consult with legal counsel to get their answers.

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