Neighbors can be a Nuisance

  • If a neighbor substantially interferes with your use and enjoyment of your property, you may be able to file a nuisance claim against them.
  • A court will balance a lot of factors to determine whether the interference qualifies as a nuisance.
  • If it does, the Plaintiff can potentially receive an injunction or monetary damages.

There was an interesting decision from the Texas Supreme Court this week that caught my eye. And when I say interesting, I mean from the perspective of a nerdy real estate lawyer who finds intricacies of commercial real estate law captivating. So … everyone.

The case resolves around nuisance law – which governs situations where a property owner’s actions substantially interfere with another’s use and enjoyment of their property. Whether it’s late-night construction, overflowing garbage attracting pests, or loud music keeping you up all night, nuisance law can offer a path to resolving these conflicts. 

So lets talk about the Supreme Court case and nuisance in general.

What is a Nuisance?

A nuisance is a condition that “substantially interferes with the use and enjoyment of land by causing unreasonable discomfort or annoyance to persons of ordinary sensibilities attempting to use and enjoy it.”  In simpler terms, it’s something that significantly disrupts your ability to live peacefully on your property. The key elements here are “substantial interference” and “unreasonable discomfort.” Not every minor annoyance will qualify as a nuisance. There must be a level of severity that would bother a reasonable person trying to live a normal life next door.

The Court’s Standards for Nuisance

Courts in Texas consider several factors when deciding if something constitutes a nuisance. These include:

  • The nature, character, and location of the activity: Courts consider the type of activity causing the disruption. For example, loud music in a quiet neighborhood is more likely to be deemed a nuisance than the same activity in a bustling commercial district.
  • The severity and duration of the interference: The frequency and intensity of the nuisance play a crucial role. Occasional loud parties might not qualify, but constant construction noise probably would.
  • The abnormal nature of the activity: Activities considered inherently dangerous, like storing hazardous materials in a residential area, are more likely to be classified as nuisances.
  • The customary use of the property: Courts consider how the properties in the area are typically used. Loud music might be expected near a music venue, but not in a peaceful, suburban neighborhood.
  • Effect on the average person: The discomfort must be something that would bother a person of ordinary sensibilities, not just someone hypersensitive to noise or smells.

There’s one important part that surprised me when I first read about in law school. Being there first doesn’t necessarily grant immunity from nuisance laws. Even if you’ve lived in your property for decades and a new neighbor moves in next door complaining about your existing activities, you can still potentially be held liable for a nuisance. The law focuses on the current situation and the impact it has on the neighboring property. This can seem unjust to some folks. But the key is that the Court just evaluates the above factors at this point in time – regardless of how long it has been continuing.

In the recent Texas Supreme Court case, a number of residential property owners sued a couple of poultry farms for the constant smell emanating from the farm. See Huynh, et al. v. Blanchard, et al., No. 21-0676, (Tex. 2024). The Court reviewed a few issues – including whether it was a temporary nuisance or not and whether the Plaintiffs had an adequate remedy at law. The Court basically did a balancing act to determine whether it was a substantial interference and, if so, what was an appropriate remedy. Ultimately the Court determined that the trial court went too far by shutting down the farms when there were other, more narrow remedies available.

What are Potential Remedies for a Nuisance?

If you prevail in a nuisance lawsuit, the court can order several remedies, including:

  • Injunction: This is a court order prohibiting the continuation of the nuisance activity.
  • Damages: You can potentially recover compensation for any harm caused by the nuisance, such as property value decrease or medical expenses due to stress.
  • Abatement: In extreme cases, the court may order the physical removal of the nuisance, such as a dilapidated structure attracting pests.

While lawsuits can be effective, they are often time-consuming and expensive.  It’s always best to try to resolve nuisance issues with your neighbor directly through open communication and compromise.  Maybe adjusting activity times or implementing noise-reduction measures can lead to a peaceful resolution.  If discussions fail, though, a lawsuit may be necessary. And that’s when a good real estate lawyer is necessary to help protect your assets.

Share this Story

Related Blogs

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter