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NUISANCE

Here you will find everything you need to know about why you shouldn't drive your neighbours to a nervous breakdown, and, what you can do if your neighbour insists on practicing the saxophone every night at 3am.

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DEFINITION OF A NUISANCE:

A noise so loud, so continuous, so repeated, of such pitch or duration or occurring at such times that it gives a person reasonable cause for annoyance.

"A nuisance is an actionable act or omission which unreasonably interferes with, or amounts to the disturbance of, the exercise of another's rights.  If the rights interfered with belong to the person as a member of the public (essentially, a person in a public setting) then the act or omission is a public nuisance. If the rights affected relate to the ownership or occupation of land, or of some easement, profit or other right enjoyed in connection with land, then the acts or omissions amount to a private nuisance" - O'Higgins CJ in Connolly v South of Ireland Asphalt Co. [1977]

It is widely accepted that nuisance can be viewed as part of the wider spectrum of torts (a civil wrong as opposed to a criminal wrong) rather than as a singular cause of action. Nuisance often tends to overlap with other civil wrongs, such as negligence. For example; let's say I burn rubbish in my garden next to my fence, walk away from the fire, and my neighbour's laundry becomes soiled by smoke and ash. I would be liable in nuisance for failing to prevent the smoke from interfering with my neighbour's laundry and I may be further liable in negligence for lighting a fire and negligently walking away from it, resulting in the damage to the laundry, nevermind the fact that burning rubbish is illegal in itself. 

You must always consider how your actions or omissions may affect the rights of others and in what ways they may do so. 

LEGAL BACKGROUND:

Most nuisance law is derived from the judgements of previous cases meaning that there is limited statutory law surrounding nuisance. Over the years various articles of legislation such as the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 and the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 have effectively absorbed the law of nuisance within their remit.

This may be an opportune time to demonstrate how, as mentioned on the Home Page, various topics of law can overlap & support each other. If you've come here having just read the page relating to Student Accommodation, you will recall how tenants have certain legal obligations towards their landlord. One of these obligations is not to behave in an anti-social manner in your capacity as a tenant. Where a tenant or landlord has failed to comply with a request regarding such anti-social behaviour then the aggrieved person may complain to the Private Residential Tenancies Board to have the matter dealt with. Alternatively they may take a civil action for nuisance via the courts under S.108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992. Thus, you can see how the offence of failing to comply with your obligations as a tenant under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 is actionable under the tort of nuisance and via the provisions of the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992.

When bringing a civil case against someone, it's always best to have as many arrows in your quiver as possible so that if one action fails, under say the tort of negligence, it may yet succeed under the tort of nuisance, etc.

Making a complaint to the courts is very straightforward. Simply inform the District Court Clerk that you wish to lodge a 'Notice of Intention to make a Complaint' form which costs €22, follow a couple of basic steps and then a District judge will hear your case, in the presence of the offending neighbour, and make a determination. Failure to comply with the determination of a judge will amount to an offence.

It is important to know which specific piece of legislation your are making a complaint under when you go to the Court Clerk. You should also keep a detailed diary of the offending noise detailing the frequency, level of noise, time of day, etc. in order to assist the judge in verifying your claim.

LOCAL AUTHORITY HOUSING:

Under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, tenants who reside in local authority housing are obliged to refrain from causing any nuisance, including excessive noise levels, which may interfere with the occupiers of other dwelling's right to enjoyment of their property. Although most students will never be local authority housing tenants whilst studying at college, they may well be renting a property next door to a local authority owned property and so the provisions of the above 2009 Act will be relevant should said neighbours ever decide to begin training elephants in the middle of the night on a recurring basis. 

GARDA POWERS:

The Gardaí have the power to arrest and detain any person who causes a disturbance to the peace in a public place, such as a park, beach or street.

In relation to excessive or unreasonable levels of domestic noise, such as may arise from a party, for example, the Gardaí can ask the occupants to lower the noise level but by no means can they enter the premises to do so. In order for a Garda to enter a private dwelling a warrant or order from the District Court judge or Commissioner of Oaths is required. Any Garda who enters a private dwelling will be acting in Ultra Vires (meaning beyond their powers) and will be in breach of the Constitutional right of 'inviolability of the dwelling' as set out under Article 40.5 of the Constitution. S.7 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 allows a Garda to enter the curtilage (general boundary area) of a property, but not to enter the dwelling itself.

There is provision, under S.12(6) of the Criminal Damage Act 1991, for a Garda to enter a premises, without a warrant, where there is reasonable belief that a crime is being committed or is about to be committed.

Such powers may be amended in times of severe emergency in order to enforce the law in accordance with public safety measures. 

COMMON NUISANCES:

The most common form of nuisance any student will encounter is Noise Pollution. Here are the most common forms of Noise Pollution that you may encounter:

Dog Barking

Failing to prevent your dog from continuous and excessive barking can very easily amount to a nuisance. If your neighbour's dog is consistently barking, particularly at unreasonable hours, you may serve this notice upon them.

Failure, by your neighbour, to abate the nuisance after such notice has been served upon them will render them liable to the judgement of the District Court under S.25 of the Control of Dogs Act 1986. If the District judge is satisfied that a nuisance exists he or she may order that either: 

        a) the owner of the dog exercise control over the dog and prevent the barking,

        b) make an order limiting the number of dogs kept on the premises, or

        c) order that the dog be delivered to a dog warden to be dealt with as though it were an unwanted dog.

House Parties

I know, I know. We've all been to them. We all like them. There's nothing quite like a solid 'Project X' style party to blow off some steam once in a while. But those last 4 words are very significant here. I'm sure nobody will mind you having a party as long as it's not a regular occurrence and as long as you have some respect for your neighbours. Consider notifying them in advance perhaps. It's not illegal to have a house party and, as mentioned above, the Gardaí cannot enter your dwelling to tell you to stop, excluding the presence of any illegal activity therein.

However, common courtesy dictates that you may wish to forewarn your neighbours in advance in case there are any concerns they may wish to raise with you such as sleeping children or elderly residents. You may even wish to invite the neighbours to the party (they won't complain if they are there themselves!). It's all about respect and finding a balance. 

That said, should you find yourself on the receiving end of a regular nuisance caused by endless house parties, you can have the matter dealt with, in the same way as all other nuisances, by filling out this form, serving it on the occupants of the offending address, giving them a chance to address the issue and then taking them to the District Court under S.108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992  if no attempt is made by them to address the issue. 

Otherwise, 'Party On, Wayne,' 'Party On, Garth!'

House Alarms

House alarms are regulated by European standards. Currently, the maximum allowable external alarm ringing duration is 15 minutes. You can make a complaint to the District Court under S.108 of the Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1992 who can then order the offending party to reduce the noise levels. There are a number of defences available to the offender, however, and, as with all nuisance claims, you must first attempt to settle the matter privately before complaining to the courts.

Car alarms are limited by European standards to a maximum ringing duration of 30 seconds.

Car Horns

It is an offence, under S.86 of the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 1963 to sound a car horn after 11.30pm and before 07:00am in a built up area except in the case of an emergency. Follow the above complaints procedures to address the issue.

FURTHER HELP AND ADVICE:

The Free Legal Advice Centre (FLAC)  has published a very useful document which offers some further information in relation to disputes between neighbours, including nuisances. This can be accessed HERE.

Always have respect for your neighbours and for your fellow students. Remember, you're representing yourself, your family and your college. Try to act like it and, most importantly, don't be a jerk!

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