You are fed up. You have tried to talk to your neighbor, but the issue has gone on for far too long. Maybe your neighbor plays loud music or uses power tools late into the night. Maybe your neighbor has built an unsightly – and potentially dangerous – “improvement.” Or maybe your neighbor’s lights are so bright that they keep you and your family up at night. Whatever the case may be, you are at your wit’s end, and you want to know: Can you (and should you) take legal action in order to get things back to normal?
Whether your neighbor is another homeowner or commercial business, dealing with a nuisance can be extremely frustrating. It can also potentially impair the value of your property. In the context of neighboring real property disputes, “nuisances” can take many different forms and they can have a variety of different effects. As a homeowner, you are well within your legal rights to seek legal remedies (e.g., an injunction against the continuation of the nuisance and damages for any financial harm caused); and, in some cases, taking legal action will be the only way to resolve the issue.
What Constitutes a “Nuisance” under Washington Law?
In order to determine whether you should take legal action, it is first necessary to understand what constitutes a nuisance under Washington law. Section 7.48.120 of the Revised Code of Washington defines a “nuisance” as follows:
“Nuisance consists in unlawfully doing an act, or omitting to perform a duty, which act or omission either annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others, offends decency, or . . . in any way renders other persons insecure in life, or in the use of property.”
Nuisance is similar to trespass in that it involves interference with a property owner’s right to make exclusive use of his or her property. However, unlike trespass, evidence of a physical intrusion is not required in order to seek legal remedies for nuisance. In addition to the examples listed in the introductory paragraph above, other potential examples of nuisances include:
Note that we said these were “potential examples.” This is because not every interference with a homeowner’s exclusive property rights will rise to the level of a legally-actionable nuisance. In general, in order to warrant an injunction, a nuisance must be substantial and unreasonable. Isolated incidents generally will not give rise to nuisance claims (although there are exceptions, and a single incident that does not amount to a nuisance could potentially support a claim for trespass, depending on the issue involved).
Additionally, what constitutes a nuisance in certain geographic areas might not constitute a nuisance in others. For example, in a rural area, it might be acceptable for a property owner to house cows that smell and roosters that crow early in the morning – whereas this could potentially give rise to a nuisance claim in suburban Tacoma. Likewise, someone who buys a home next to an established commercial business might be expected to deal with the business’s noise and traffic, whereas someone whose neighbor decides to start a large-scale contracting business might have grounds to seek an injunction.
What Do You Need to Prove in Order to Pursue Legal Action for a Nuisance?
In general terms, there are three elements of a claim for nuisance in Washington. In order to successfully pursue a claim, you must be able to prove that:
1. You Own or Rent Your Home
The first element of a nuisance claim is fairly straightforward. If you own your home, or if you rent your residence from the property’s owner, then you have standing to pursue a claim for nuisance.
2. Your Neighbor’s Conduct or Property Condition Interferes with Your Enjoyment and Use of Your Property
Next, you must be able to prove that your neighbor’s conduct, or the condition of your neighbor’s property, interfere with your enjoyment and use of your residential property. If your neighbor constantly does something that you find annoying but that doesn’t actually interfere with your use of your property, then you likely do not have a nuisance claim. On the other hand, if you face daily frustrations, inconveniences, or intrusions that prevent you from living peacefully or using your property as you intend, then you may be entitled to an injunction, damages, or both.
3. Your Neighbor’s Conduct or Property Condition Is Substantial and Unreasonable
Finally, you must be able to prove that your neighbor’s conduct or property condition is “substantial and unreasonable” . However, there is no bright-line test for establishing substantiality or unreasonableness. Instead, proving a nuisance claim requires a presentation of all relevant evidence so that the court can make a determination based on the specific facts and circumstances involved.
Will You Need to Take Your Nuisance Case to Court?
While it is possible that you will need to go to court and present your case to a judge in order to secure an injunction, nuisance claims often settle without going to trial. In many cases, simply hiring a lawyer to send a cease-and-desist letter can be enough, though negotiated resolutions are common as well. Ultimately, the steps required to remedy the nuisance will be dictated by the facts and circumstances involved, and your neighbor’s willingness to consider your complaint in good faith will be a major factor in determining the lengths to which you need to go to assert your legal rights.
Discuss Your Nuisance Claim with a Trusted Attorney
Our experienced attorneys represent Tacoma homeowners in nuisance and trespass claims and other similar types of matters. If you have questions and would like to speak with an attorney, we encourage you to contact us for a confidential initial consultation. To schedule an appointment, call us now, or tell us how to reach you and we will be in touch shortly