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What is a Public Nuisance?

Nicole Madison
Updated May 16, 2024
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A public nuisance is an act or process that interferes with a community’s enjoyment of a land, area, or region. It may include anything that disturbs the health and safety of a community of people. It can also include things that are not particularly unsafe or unhealthy, but annoy the general public and keep people from being comfortable in a community.

Nuisances can be divided into two categories. One is a public nuisance and the other is a private nuisance. A private nuisance may interfere with the health or comfort of just one person or several people. A public one, on the other hand, affects everyone in a community or most of the people who live, work, or do business there.

There are many different types of behavior, acts, and processes that can be considered public nuisances. For example, a person may decide to take his clothes off and bathe in a public creek within sight of his neighbors, causing a public nuisance. Another person may own a large, aggressive dog and allow him to exit the house unleashed. If he intimidates neighbors and other dogs, biting them or even just growling and acting as if he will bite, this is another example of this type of act. Sometimes a person may be accused of being a public nuisance not because of his behavior but because of the manner in which he cares for his property, allowing trash and junk items to build up on or around it.

In some cases, a business may be accused of being a nuisance. For example, if a business moves into a quiet residential area and causes hours of noise, this may be considered a nuisance. The same goes for a business that exhausts noxious fumes into the air or brings entertainment many people consider unsavory to an area. A new strip club, for example, may be called a public nuisance if its neighbors believe it makes the area unsafe or interferes with the community's general comfort.

Things that illegally block free passage in an area or community count as public nuisances as well. For example, if a person places objects on a road, making it impossible for others to pass through, this act may be considered a public nuisance. A company that pollutes a river or any other body of water, making its water unsafe for humans and animals, fits this definition as well.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison , Writer
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.

Discussion Comments

By anon948856 — On May 02, 2014

I live in a neighborhood that was very quiet and full of kids who all play together. One neighbor moved out and some new folks moved in. They've decided to make their backyard a shooting range and go out and shoot. It used to be every other Saturday but has now spread to during the week as well. They've ruined the peace and quiet the neighborhood had and they don't care. Police have been called on multiple occasions but this is legal in the county I live in. When do they become a nuisance? --Z

By anon938885 — On Mar 11, 2014

I have a committable neighbor who is caused so much stress to the neighbors, especially me, my hair is falling out and I feel like I am going to snap soon. If any lawyer can help me, let me know.

By anon337893 — On Jun 08, 2013

I am dealing with a city neighbor who has ruined a very quiet block. There are usually five or six people standing on the porch, with the door hanging wide open and using loud, intimidating voices. The language is foul and it's hard to determine whether it's conversations or an actual fight. I can't understand how people think it is OK to stand on a sidewalk, under neighbors' windows and yell every word they speak. The police have been called numerous times.

As soon as the police leave, they stand in the street screaming "call them back", we know how to work them. We have all become so concerned the block will never be the same. One home is already on the market. Sadly, ours will be next. There is no stopping it.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 02, 2011

@Moldova - I really feel bad for people that hoard things especially animals. They are usually lonely people that need some support. I do have to say that they do break public nuisance laws because it is unsanitary to live like that.

What usually happens in a lot of these cases is that these people put food out for stray cats and then the cats become pets and it gets really out of control. One or two stray cats walking around is okay about ten or more is a bit much.

In my condo building many of the residents were leaving cat food for the stray cats and the building developed a flea infestation and they had to exterminate in order to get rid of the fleas. They warned the residents not to feed the cats so that this would not happen again.

By Moldova — On Jul 01, 2011

@Orangey03- I wonder if people that resort to excessive hoarding could fall into the nuisance definition because their property is often is a state of disrepair and really uninhabitable.

This has to create problems for the neighbors because many of these homes are unsanitary and contain rats and other rodents. Also because the property is in such bad condition it also significantly lowers the property value of the other homes in the community.

I recently saw a television program about a lady that had over forty cats. This is not healthy for the lady nor is it healthy for the cats. Most of the cats were really sick and the house was falling apart. I don’t know why the health department has not stepped in and taken away those cats and condemned the house. The house only had one bathroom and it was nonfunctioning.

By orangey03 — On Jul 01, 2011

A family in my neighborhood raised peacocks. The family lived far enough away from other houses that the sound of the peacocks did not bother anyone. However, the peacocks liked to wander, and they really annoyed one family.

The peacocks, for some reason, enjoyed spending time in the road. They didn't just cross the road, though. They like to stand on the pavement and flash their pretty feathers.

Most members of the community loved to see the peacocks. They are such colorful, beautiful birds. One man stood alone in his quest to have the peacocks declared a public nuisance.

For some reason, the fact that he had to steer slightly to the right or left to avoid hitting a peacock at times annoyed him to no end. He filed numerous complaints, but since he was the only one who did, the peacocks got to go on about their lives.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 30, 2011

When I moved to a community where the houses were close together and everyone knew everyone else's business, the neighbors came to visit me before I even got my stuff unloaded. They seemed really nice, but they warned me about the artist who lived down the street.

It seems that he had fully thrown himself into his work. He had no job and spent all his time expressing himself. His art form wasn't on paper, however.

He had decided to protest vehicular transportation for one month. To do this, he would stand in the middle of the street with two gas cans strapped together to form a loincloth of sorts. Whenever a car came by, he would chase it for about a block.

Eventually, some new residents called the cops and he was declared a public nuisance. I find it amusing that the people of the community just accepted this as his art form for so long!

By lighth0se33 — On Jun 30, 2011

I wondered just how a public nuisance gets handled, so I looked up a public nuisance ordinance. It seems that for a violation to count, an officer has to verify the complaint and issue a ticket. The officer would evaluate the complaints so that he could prove that they were legitimate if it went to court.

The owner of the property causing the nuisance must have the chance to fix the problem. Multiple violations in a time frame of 24 hours only count as one violation, so if a man threw one loud party and got several complaints, he would still have a chance.

The public nuisance ordinance states that 45 days must pass between the 2nd and 3rd violation notices in a period of one year. This gives the property owner plenty of time to rectify his situation.

By StarJo — On Jun 29, 2011

I had a neighbor who was deemed a public nuisance. He stayed drunk most of the time, and when he got significantly intoxicated, he started walking down the street yelling out a conversation between himself and some imaginary man named Frank.

It fascinated me to see him shift voices between himself and Frank. Frank seemed to be a clear-minded, sophisticated fellow, while Steve, the drunk man, slurred crudely and used the most basic language.

The court eventually removed Steve (and Frank) from the neighborhood after multiple arrests for being a public nuisance. That charge, on top of the public drunkenness charge, led to jail time and a nice new home at a rehabilitation center.

By SZapper — On Jun 29, 2011

@indemnifyme - I'm glad your public nuisance story had a happy ending! I'm dealing with a public nuisance situation right now that I don't see going so well.

My neighbors barking dog is keeping me up all hours of the night. I've tried to talk to him about quieting his dog and he just says "That's how dogs are." I really don't want to get the police involved but I feel sure he's violating some kind of noise ordinance. Especially when the dog is howling at the top of his lungs at 3 in the morning!

If this doesn't stop though I will have to get the authorities involved because I just can't take it anymore.

By indemnifyme — On Jun 29, 2011

I live in a pretty conservative suburban neighborhood and there was actually a battle awhile ago when a bar wanted to open nearby. Everyone was crying "public nuisance" and harping about how it was going to bring noise and crime to the area.

The bar ended up winning, and opened up anyway. I must say, I admire their tenacity for opening up a business where it wasn't wanted!

That being said, the bar is actually a huge success. The owner made a big effort to get involved in the community and run a nice, clean establishment. The bar also serves food and has trivia and karaoke nights, so eventually the people in the neighborhood started patronizing the bar. Sometimes I remind my next door neighbors how much they were against opening the bar in the neighborhood and they just laugh a little!

Nicole Madison

Nicole Madison


Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a MyLawQuestions writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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