Minnesota Local Public Nuisance Laws

This post is part of a series of posts on Minnesota’s Public and Private Nuisance Laws.

General Ordinances and Regulation

Most local units of government have the authority to define and abate nuisances by means of local ordinance. In the case of home rule charter cities, this authority may be derived from the city charter. Statutory cities and towns have specific authority under state law to define and abate nuisances.34 Although state law does not state as explicitly for counties as it does for cities the county’s general authority to define and provide for the prevention and abatement of nuisances, it does, in effect, authorize them to do so.35

Under Minnesota case law, city ordinances may only regulate public nuisances and may only declare a condition to be a nuisance if the condition has been so recognized by the courts.36

Many conditions have been declared to be nuisances by the courts, including the accumulation of filth, noise, dogs, and offensive odors.37

Local governments also may approach nuisance problems from a regulatory perspective, through the use of licensing fees. When a type of activity or business (such as an adult entertainment business) has the potential to deteriorate into a nuisance condition, the local government may choose to set the license fee for the activity at a high enough level to discourage a large number of license applicants. The courts historically have given local governments wide latitude to establish high licensing fees for these nuisance-prone businesses, at least with respect to activities that the local government could choose to prohibit instead of regulate.38

Nuisance Affecting the Public Health

The governing body of every city and county in the state is required to either undertake the responsibilities of a board of public health or establish such a board independently. Among the required duties of a board of public health is the removal and abatement of public health nuisances.39

In undertaking its duties, a board of public health is required to order the owner or occupant of property that is either a public health nuisance, source of filth, or a cause of sickness to remove or abate the threat within a time established by the board, not to exceed 10 days. Notice must be properly served on the owner, occupant, or agent of the property before the board may take further action.40

If the owner, occupant, or agent of the property does not comply with the board’s order, the board (or its own agent) is required to remove the threat.41 The board may seek an injunction in court against any nuisance or other activity that adversely affects the public health.42

An individual who deliberately hinders a member of a board of public health from the performance of the member’s duties is guilty of a misdemeanor offense.43 Similarly, any member of a board of public health that refuses or neglects to perform a duty imposed by statute or ordinance is guilty of a misdemeanor.44

The content of this post and any related posts has been copied or adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, Minnesota’s Public and Private Nuisance Laws, written by legislative analyst Matt Gehring.

This post is also part of a series of posts on Minnesota’s Public and Private Nuisance Laws.

30 For purposes of the law, graffiti is defined as “unauthorized markings of paint, dye, or other similar substance that have been placed on real or personal property such as buildings, fences, transportation equipment, or other structures, or the unauthorized etching or scratching of the surfaces of such real or personal property, any of which markings, scratchings, or etchings are visible from premises open to the public.” Minn. Stat. § 617.90, subd. 1.

31 Minn. Stat. § 617.90, subd. 2.

32 Id.

33 Minn. Stat. § 540.18.

34 See e.g. Minn. Stat. §§ 412.221, subds. 23 and 24 (statutory cities); 368.01, subd. 15 (urban towns); and 365.10, subd. 17 (other towns).

35 The combination of specific statutes authorizing counties to address nuisances appears to amount to a general authority. In particular, see Minn. Stat. § 145A.05 (public health) and § 394.21 (zoning).

36 St. Paul v. Gilfillan, 36 Minn. 298, 31 N.W. 49 (1886).

37 See 14A Dunnell Minn. Digest Nuisances.

38 Jeanette Behr, Rachel Carlson, and Susan Naughton, Handbook for Minnesota Cities, 11th ed. (St. Paul: League of Minnesota Cities, 2007 online edition), 12-16–12-18.

39 Minn. Stat. § 145A.04, subd. 8.

40 Notice for abatement or removal must be served on the owner, occupant, or agent of the property in one of the following ways:

(1) by registered or certified mail
(2) by an officer authorized to serve a warrant
(3) by a person aged 18 years or older who is not reasonably believed to be a party to any action arising from the notice

If the owner of the property is unknown or absent and has no known representative upon whom notice can be served, the board of health or its agent shall post a written or printed notice on the property stating that, unless the threat to the public health is abated or removed within a period not longer than ten days, the board will have the threat abated or removed at the expense of the owner under section 145A.08 or other applicable state or local law. Minn. Stat. § 145A.04, subd. 8.

41 Minn. Stat. § 145A.04, subd. 8. 42 Minn. Stat. § 145A.04, subd. 9. 43 Minn. Stat. § 145A.04, subd. 10.