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The owner or person in possession of land is not at liberty to use it as he pleases. Land, even if unencumbered, may not be used in such manner as to harm or disturb one's neighbors. Any neighbor can require the offending landowner to abate the nuisance or to have the cause thereof removed from their common boundary.

Among the restraints imposed on the use of land, the Mishnah (bb 2) makes mention of the following: A person may not dig a cistern near to his neighbor's cistern or wall, since they would thus be damaged, and he must remove lime from the vicinity of his neighbor's wall; he may not open a bakery or stable under his neighbor's barn, nor a shop on residential premises where the customers will disturb the neighbors; he may not build a wall so close to his neighbor's windows as to darken them; he must not keep his ladder near his neighbor's dovecote since it will enable a weasel to climb it and devour the pigeons; his threshing floor must not be too near a town or his neighbor's field lest the chaff harm the vegetation. There are further instances of the potentially harmful use of land enumerated in the Talmud.

The tanna, R. Yose, is of the opinion that the person creating a nuisance cannot be obliged to abate it and is free to act as he pleases and the injured party must keep his distance if he wishes to avoid suffering harm. The halakhah of the Talmud was decided in accordance with R. Yose's view, but the latter was interpreted as admitting that the tort-feasor must abate a nuisance if the interference with his neighbor's use of his property arises from his own harmful act (i.e., an act of his own body, as if he had "shot arrows" into his neighbor's domain; bb 22b). The scope of this qualification is not clear and some scholars hold that most of the injuries enumerated in the Mishnah (above) are of the kind qualified by R. Yose, which the latter concedes must be abated by the tort-feasor. Other scholars hold that R. Yose disagrees with the abovementioned mishnayot and obliges the tort-feasor to abate a nuisance only when damage is actually (and directly) caused by his own act (see Rashi and Tos. ibid.). In fact, in the post-talmudic period, the instances in which R. Yose was considered to have conceded the existence of tort-feasor's obligation to abate a nuisance were extended as far as possible (see *Asher b. Jehiel (Rosh), quoted in Tur, Ḥm 155:20–23). The Talmud (bb 17b) also records the dispute over the question whether the obligation – when it exists – of abating a nuisance applies even if the offender's particular use of his land preceded that of his neighbor – the latter suffering no damage until the time of such conflicting use by him – or whether prior use takes precedence. Thus if the injured party's particular use of his land preceded his neighbor's conflicting use of his land, the latter must curtail his use, but if the other way round the obligation rests upon the injured party. There is an opinion (Tos. ibid., 18b), which holds that the rule of precedence by virtue of prior use is universally accepted and that there is no dispute save with regard to a single case, that of digging a cistern in the vicinity of a common boundary with a neighbor.

Which Nuisance Must Be Abated

An analysis of the cases of nuisance referred to in talmudic literature and the reasoning behind them suggests that all cases of nuisance may be divided into four categories:

(1) An interference arising when land is used in a manner usual for that particular place and time, but the neighbor suffers injury in an unusual manner, either because of the unusual use of his own land or because he is uncommonly sensitive to the disturbance. It is unanimously agreed that in this event the alleged tort-feasor is at no time obliged to abate the so-called nuisance.

(2) The tort-feasor uses his land in an unusual manner for that particular place and time, while the injured neighbor uses his land in the usual manner, in the same way as other people do, and is neither more sensitive nor anxious than most people. In this event all agree that the tort-feasor must always abate the nuisance he has created.

(3) Both parties use their land in the usual manner and the injured party is not uncommonly sensitive.

(4) The tort-feasor uses his land in an unusual manner, and the injured party does so too or is uncommonly sensitive.

The latter two categories are the subject of the dispute mentioned above between R. Yose and the sages, as to whether the party causing the nuisance is obliged to abate it or whether it must be suffered by the injured neighbor; and of the dispute whether the injuring party must always abate the nuisance or whether it is a matter of prior use taking precedence. Most acts of nuisance referred to in the Talmud fall into the third of these categories (see Albeck, bibliography).

The Rules of Nuisance as Part of the Law of Property

The prohibition against using land in a manner interfering with a neighbor's enjoyment of his own property is inherent in the proprietary rights over that immovable property, and the right to the undisturbed use of one's property may be sold like any other proprietary right. A person may sell or transfer part (or all) of his right to the undisturbed enjoyment of his property by agreeing to a particular use of his neighbor's property, whereupon the neighbor may make such use of his land regardless of any nuisance thereby caused to the former. Thus, for instance, a person may become entitled to erect a dovecote alongside this common boundary and may transfer this right, together with the land itself, to a new owner. Furthermore this right is retained by the owner of the disturbing property even when the adjacent land is sold to a new owner (see Sh. Ar., Ḥm 155:24). A nuisance which is continued for a period of three years (or even from the outset, according to some scholars), if supported by a plea that the right was granted to him by the injured neighbor (or even without such a plea, according to some scholars), constitutes evidence of such right of user. However, these rules apply only when the nuisance is not so severe as to be insufferable (ibid., 155:35–36.)

Relationship of Nuisance to the Laws of Tort

A person suffering a nuisance may oblige his neighbor to abate the nuisance and if physical damage results from the nuisance which itself was the result of the neighbor's negligence, he is also entitled to be compensated for such damage (bb 20b). If the nuisance is of a kind which the law does not require the tort-feasor to abate, the neighbor cannot oblige the tort-feasor to do so, nor, according to some scholars, can he recover compensation for damage of a physical nature even when caused by negligence, because he, in turn, is expected to take precautions. Other scholars, however, hold the tort-feasor liable for resulting damage. If a person's use of his land is such that it may cause his neighbor damage for which compensation is payable but it is not likely that such damage will result, the neighbor cannot demand the abatement of the nuisance because people are not normally afraid of or disturbed by an unlikely risk; but if in fact the damage does result from the landowner's negligence he is obliged to compensate his neighbor. If such use of the land habitually causes damage for which compensation is payable, people will usually be disturbed thereby and the neighbor can require the abatement thereof. If the damage is of a kind which is foreseeable, the landowner will be deemed negligent, but if the damage was unforeseeable, he is exempt from liability. The law of the State of Israel (Civil Wrongs Ordinance, 1947) defines private nuisance as any conduct which causes a material interference with the reasonable use and enjoyment of another's immovable property. The injured party is entitled to compensation and the court may order the abatement of the nuisance.

[Shalom Albeck]

Visual Trespass (hezzek re'iyyah)

The damage occasioned by a neighbor's ability to "look" into another person's home (hezzek re'iyyah) is a nuisance bearing unique characteristics. It occurs as a result of the neighbor's ability to observe another person's activities in his home. The damage may be caused when a person builds a window opposite his neighbor's window in a way that enables him to see into his neighbor's home, and the "trespasser" may be compelled to remove the potential source of damage – i.e., his visual trespass into another person's private domain – by requiring him to close off the window (Mish., bb 3:7; Yad, Shekhenim 5:6; Sh. Ar., Ḥm 154:3). In the case of partners sharing the same courtyard, the possibility of this kind of trespass, occasioned by the proximity of their dwellings, imposes on each of the parties the advance (financial) obligation of erecting a partition between the separate parts of the courtyard (bb 2:2; Yad, Shekhenim 2:14; Sh. Ar. Ḥm 157:1).

Regarding partners to the same courtyard, the posekim agree that one cannot acquire a ḥazakah, i.e., a right established by ongoing practice, to visually trespass in another person's domain. Hence both parties are entitled at all times to force the other to participate in the construction of the partition, and the other cannot argue that a waiver may be inferred from the length of time that has elapsed without protest (Maim., Yad, Shekhenim 11:4; Sh. Ar., Ḥm 155:36). The posekim however dispute the question of visual trespass created by the construction of a window. The issue is whether visual trespass under these circumstances establishes a ḥazakah (in the sense referred to above) so that in the absence of protest by the other party, the builder of the window gains the right to perpetuate the existing situation, and what length of time must elapse after the window's construction for a lack of protest to be deemed as a waiver on the neighbor's part. This dispute is based on the various tannaitic views cited in the Talmud (bb 59b), and indicates the uniqueness of this type of nuisance. Certain posekim view this form of trespass as analogous to any other nuisance, so that if protest is not expressed from the outset, it may be seen as consent and the person causing it will acquire a ḥazakah with respect thereto (Yad, Shekhenim 5:6; Kesef Mishneh, ad loc.; Yad, Shekhenim 11:4; Maggid Mishneh, ad loc.). Other posekim classify it as a nuisance in respect of which there can be no ḥazakah based on waiver because it falls into the category of nuisance caused without any action being taken and, as such the nuisance is a permanent one and the evidentiary presumption is that others do not pardon it. Nevertheless, if one of the parties waived his right to the other by a formal kinyan, his waiver is effective and he cannot retract it (Rif, quoted in Nimukkei Yosef, bb 1b; for a general discussion of waiver of obligations, see *Acquisition; *Meḥilah). A third view is presented by the Rashba (Resp. Rashba, vol. 2. no. 268; see also Ḥiddushei ha-Ramban to bb 59a). Rashba states that visual trespass is forbidden, not only in terms of civil law, but in order to preserve modesty, which a Jew is not at liberty to waive, and should he do so his waiver is invalid. Rashba finds support for this opinion in the words of Rabbi Johanan in the Talmud (bb 60a), who states that the law of hezzek re'iyyah is based on the Biblical verse (Numbers 24:2): "And Bilaam lifted up his eyes and he saw Israel dwelling according to their tribes," which emphasizes the modesty of Israel. In light of this ruling, Rashba stated that a custom accepted by the people in a place not to insist on matters involving visual trespass is an erroneous custom and of no validity (see *Minhag; *Mistake). Some consider Rashba's statement as the source for protection of privacy in Jewish law (see *Rights, Human).

[Menachem Elon (2nd ed.)]


Gulak, Yesodei, 1 (1922), 134, 146f; et, 8 (1957), 659–702; 10 (1961), 628–96; S. Albeck, in: Sinai, 60 (1967), 97–123. add. bibliography: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:763f.; 879ff.; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 2:942f.; 1073ff.; Enẓiklopedyah Talmudit, 8, 659.

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A legal action to redress harm arising from the use of one's property.

The two types of nuisance are private nuisance and public nuisance. A private nuisance is a civil wrong; it is the unreasonable, unwarranted, or unlawful use of one's property in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual's property, without an actual trespass or physical invasion to the land. A public nuisance is a criminal wrong; it is an act or omission that obstructs, damages, or inconveniences the rights of the community.

Public Nuisance

The term public nuisance covers a wide variety of minor crimes that threaten the health, morals, safety, comfort, convenience, or welfare of a community. Violators may be punished by a criminal sentence, a fine, or both. A defendant may also be required to remove a nuisance or to pay the costs of removal. For example, a manufacturer who has polluted a stream might be fined and might also be ordered to pay the cost of cleanup. Public nuisances may interfere with public health, such as in the keeping of diseased animals or a malarial pond. Public safety nuisances include shooting fireworks in the streets, storing explosives, practicing medicine without a license, or harboring a vicious dog. Houses of prostitution, illegal liquor establishments, gaming houses, and unlicensed prizefights are examples of nuisances that interfere with public morals. Obstructing a highway or creating a condition to make travel unsafe or highly disagreeable are examples of nuisances threatening the public convenience.

A public nuisance interferes with the public as a class, not merely one person or a group of citizens. No civil remedy exists for a private citizen harmed by a public nuisance, even if his or her harm was greater than the harm suffered by others; a criminal prosecution is the exclusive remedy. However, if the individual suffers harm that is different from that suffered by the general public, the individual may maintain a tort action for damages. For example, if dynamiting has thrown a large boulder onto a public highway, those who use the highway cannot maintain a nuisance action for the inconvenience. However, a motorist who is injured from colliding with the boulder may bring a tort action for personal injuries.

Some nuisances can be both public and private in certain circumstances where the public nuisance substantially interferes with the use of an individual's adjoining land. For example, pollution of a river might constitute both a public and a private nuisance. This is known as a mixed nuisance.

Private Nuisance

A private nuisance is an interference with a person's enjoyment and use of his land. The law recognizes that landowners, or those in rightful possession of land, have the right to the unimpaired condition of the property and to reasonable comfort and convenience in its occupation.

Examples of private nuisances abound. Nuisances that interfere with the physical condition of the land include vibration or blasting that damages a house; destruction of crops; raising of a water table; or the pollution of soil, a stream, or an underground water supply. Examples of nuisances interfering with the comfort, convenience, or health of an occupant are foul odors, noxious gases, smoke, dust, loud noises, excessive light, or high temperatures. Moreover, a nuisance may also disturb an occupant's mental tranquility, such as a neighbor who keeps a vicious dog, even though an injury is only threatened and has not actually occurred.

An attractive nuisance is a danger likely to lure children onto a person's land. For example, an individual who has a pool on his property has a legal obligation to take reasonable precautions, such as erecting a fence, to prevent foreseeable injury to children.

Trespass is sometimes confused with nuisance, but the two are distinct. A trespass action protects against an invasion of one's right to exclusive possession of land. If a landowner drops a tree across her neighbor's boundary line she has committed a trespass; if her dog barks all night keeping the neighbor awake, she may be liable for nuisance.

Legal Responsibility

A private nuisance is a tort, that is, a civil wrong. To determine accountability for an alleged nuisance, a court will examine three factors: the defendant's fault, whether there has been a substantial interference with the plaintiff's interest, and the reasonableness of the defendant's conduct.

Fault Fault means that the defendant intentionally, negligently, or recklessly interfered with the plaintiff's use and enjoyment of the land or that the defendant continued her conduct after learning of actual harm or substantial risk of future harm to the plaintiff's interest. For example, a defendant who continues to spray chemicals into the air after learning that they are blowing onto the plaintiff's land is deemed to be intending that result. Where it is alleged that a defendant has violated a statute, proving the elements of the statute will establish fault.

Substantial Interference The law is not intended to remedy trifles or redress petty annoyances. To establish liability under a nuisance theory, interference with the plaintiff's interest must be substantial. Determining substantial interference in cases where the physical condition of the property is affected will often be fairly straightforward. More challenging are those cases predicated on personal inconvenience, discomfort, or annoyance. To determine whether an interference is substantial, courts apply the standard of an ordinary member of the community with normal sensitivity and temperament. A plaintiff cannot, by putting his or her land to an unusually sensitive use, make a nuisance out of the defendant's conduct that would otherwise be relatively harmless.

Reasonableness of Defendant's Conduct If the interference with the plaintiff's interest is substantial, a determination must then be made that it is unreasonable for the plaintiff to bear it or to bear it without compensation. This is a balancing process weighing the respective interests of both parties. The law recognizes that the activities of others must be accommodated to a certain extent, particularly in matters of industry, commerce, or trade. The nature and gravity of the harm is balanced against the burden of preventing the harm and the usefulness of the conduct.

The following are factors to be considered:

  • Extent and duration of the disturbance;
  • Nature of the harm;
  • Social value of the plaintiff's use of his or her property or other interest;
  • Burden to the plaintiff in preventing the harm;
  • Value of the defendant's conduct, in general and to the particular community;
  • Motivation of the defendant;
  • Feasibility of the defendant's mitigating or preventing the harm;
  • Locality and suitability of the uses of the land by both parties.

zoning boards use these factors to enact restrictions of property uses in specific locations. In this way, zoning laws work to prohibit public nuisances and to maintain the quality of a neighborhood.


In an attempt to escape liability, a defendant may argue that legislation (such as zoning laws or licenses) authorizes a particular activity. Legislative authority will not excuse a defendant from liability if the conduct is unreasonable.

A defendant may not escape liability by arguing that others are also contributing to the harm; damages will be apportioned according to a defendant's share of the blame. Moreover, a defendant is liable even where his or her actions without the actions of others would not have constituted a nuisance.

Defendants sometimes argue that a plaintiff "came to a nuisance" by moving onto land next to an already operating source of interference. A new owner is entitled to the reasonable use and enjoyment of his or her land the same as anyone else, but the argument may be considered in determining the reasonableness of the defendant's conduct. It may also have an impact in determining damages because the purchase price may have reflected the existence of the nuisance.


Redress for nuisance is commonly monetary damages. An injunction or abatement may also be proper under certain circumstances. An injunction orders a defendant to stop, remove, restrain, or restrict a nuisance or abandon plans for a threatened nuisance. In public nuisance cases, a fine or sentence may be imposed, in addition to abatement or injunctive relief.

Injunction is a drastic remedy, used only when damage or the threat of damage is irreparable and not satisfactorily compensable only by monetary damages. The court examines the economic hardships to the parties and the interest of the public in allowing the continuation of the enterprise.

A self-help remedy, abatement by the plaintiff, is available under limited circumstances. This privilege must be exercised within a reasonable time after learning of the nuisance and usually requires notice to the defendant and the defendant's failure to act. Reasonable force may be used to employ the abatement, and a plaintiff may be liable for unreasonable or unnecessary damages. For example, dead tree limbs extending dangerously over a neighbor's house may be removed by the neighbor in danger, after notifying the offending landowner of the nuisance. In cases where an immediate danger to health, property, or life exists, no notification is necessary.

further readings

Cleary, Joseph W. 2002. "Municipalities Versus Gun Manufacturers: Why Public Nuisance Claims Just Do Not Work." University of Baltimore Law Review 31 (spring).

Dodson, Robert D. 2002. "Rethinking Private Nuisance Law: Recognizing Esthetic Nuisances in the New Millennium." South Carolina Environmental Law Journal 10 (summer).

Fischel, William A. 1985. The Economics of Zoning Laws: A Property Rights Approach to American Land Use Controls. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

Paul, Ellen Frankel, and Howard Dickman, eds. 1990. Liberty, Property, and the Future of Constitutional Development. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

Scott, Michael S. 2001. Loud Car Stereos. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Wade, John W., et al. 1994. Prosser, Wade, and Schwartz's Cases and Materials on Torts. 9th ed. Westbury, N.Y.: Foundation Press.


Land-Use Control; Tort Law.

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nui·sance / ˈn(y)oōsəns/ • n. a person, thing, or circumstance causing inconvenience or annoyance: an unreasonable landlord could become a nuisance | I hope you're not going to make a nuisance of yourself. ∎  (also private nuisance) Law an unlawful interference with the use and enjoyment of a person’s land. ∎ Law see public nuisance.

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nuisance injury, harm XV; injurious or obnoxious thing XV; source of annoyance XIX. — OF. (now arch.) nuisance hurt, f. nuis-, stem of nuire injure :- L. nocēre; see -ANCE.