What is a Public Nuisance?
From loudly barking dogs to scattered trash that attracts vermin, many types of behavior are bound to annoy the people nearby. Luckily for pestered individuals whose ability to live comfortably is being infringed upon, California law makes such behavior a crime. The public nuisance laws, appearing in the California penal code, make it clear that interfering with the public’s enjoyment of life is punishable by law. By learning more about these important laws, you’ll gain a better understanding of your rights as you hold pesky neighbors accountable or defend yourself from accusations.
Public Nuisance Defined
Simply stated, a nuisance is something that annoys you. While the word usually refers to minor annoyances in everyday speech, it can have a wider meaning in the legal realm. Some nuisances are relatively minor, like a neighbor’s wind chimes that sound pleasant enough during the day but grow a bit tiresome at night. Other nuisances, like an oil spill that ruins a fisherman’s way of life, prove catastrophic.
Your child’s whiny friend and the grating sound of your washing machine are certainly potential nuisances, but they’re not public. To be considered a public nuisance, an annoyance must affect many people at once, usually a neighborhood or community. A loud party, for example, is considered public in scope because everyone in the area has to put up with the shouts, laughter, and throbbing bass. This article deals with public annoyances that can be prosecuted as such.
How It Appears in California Law
California’s law against public nuisance appears as Penal Code 372 PC. The law states that it is illegal for anyone in California to create or maintain a public nuisance. Creating a nuisance refers to the active production of a situation that will annoy the surrounding public, including such behaviors as blasting music in the middle of the night and screaming at the top of your lungs. Maintaining a nuisance refers to the ignoring of a public annoyance that falls under your realm of responsibility. You’re guilty of maintaining a nuisance, for example, if you leave your yard scattered with the trash that’s attracting animals.
Anyone who breaks this law is considered guilty of a misdemeanor and can be punished with a fine of up to $1000 or a prison sentence of up to six months. In many cases, the judge awards summary probation instead of applying a fine or calling for jail time.
It’s important to note that California law exempts from nuisance complaints all events taking place with the expressed consent of public authorities. Annoying behavior stemming from an activity with statutory support cannot be considered a nuisance in a legal sense. Take, for example, the sound of music from a town fair that’s been sanctioned by the government. The activity is occurring with a statute’s expressed authority, exempting organizers from potential nuisance-related prosecution.
The Steps for Filing a Complaint
If you’re the victim of a community-wide nuisance, you can take several steps to put a stop to the situation. Behaviors that meet California’s definition of a nuisance should be halted immediately, and you might even enter the territory of compensate/compensation. Rather than accepting the obnoxious behavior of your neighbors, consider taking the following steps to resolve the issue.
Talk to City Officials
Any nuisance that’s affecting an entire community is considered public in scale, and the city government should lead the way in putting a stop to the behavior. If you’re suffering from a nuisance of this public variety, reach out to city officials. They should respond by launching an investigation and holding the guilty party accountable.
Speak to a Real Estate Attorney
If the city government fails to take action, you can consider launching a lawsuit of your own. You’re entitled to sue the perpetrator of a community-wide nuisance, especially if you’re distinctly harmed by the annoyance on an individual level. Navigating the case by yourself will be impossible, so you’ll need a lawyer to represent you. Real estate attorneys are usually best placed to assist in cases of this sort.
Initiate a Lawsuit
Once you’ve got a lawyer on your side, it will be time to sue the offending parties. Your lawyer will argue in court that you’re the distinct victim of a community-wide nuisance. If you win the case, you should expect the offensive behavior to stop immediately. You can also look for punishments to be meted out and restitution to be considered. This is where the question of compensate/compensation comes in.
Rights in a Nuisance Case
As in any legal case, the defendants in a nuisance case have the right to defend themselves in a court of law. If you’ve been accused of causing a nuisance, you can count on having your day in court. Your lawyer will likely base your case around one of the common defenses seen in nuisance-related lawsuits.
One common defense is the “coming to the nuisance” argument. This line of defense is especially handy when the supposedly offended party moved to a location where the offensive behavior had already been occurring. If, for example, a person buys property next to an airfield, they can’t sue the operators for the sound of planes.
Another common argument defendants make is that the nuisance was caused by a one-time event. A single party, for example, should be considered less of a nuisance than nightly disturbances. A defense attorney can also point out to the judge that few people were affected by the behavior, making it a private rather than a public concern. Whatever line of argument an attorney chooses, the accused will always maintain their right to a proper defense.