Neighbor Nuisance: What is Your Recourse?

A person’s home is his or her castle. It should be a place of calm, comfort, and sanctuary. However, unless you live out in the country on lots of land, you will be in close proximity to other people’s homes and, as we all know, not everyone makes the best neighbor. So, when you believe your neighbor is being a nuisance, what can you do? Fortunately, Minnesota has laws that provide for the protection of the general welfare of its residents.

What is a Nuisance?

Minnesota Statute Section 561.01 defines a nuisance as:

Anything which is injurious to health, or indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, is a nuisance.

But what does this mean in actuality? A nuisance can be a variety of things including: an intentional act, negligent conduct, an ultra-hazardous activity, a violation of a state statute, a violation of a city ordinance, or any other wrongful (or “tortious”) activity. Nuisances can be public or private. Public nuisances affect an entire community. Private nuisances affect less people, but are still actionable.

Some real life examples could be failing to cut your grass, excessive noise, and accumulation of garbage or other junk. Minnesota courts have found the following activities to be public nuisances:

  • Unlawful activity involving controlled substances;
  • Unlawful use of a dangerous weapon;
  • Accumulation of filth;
  • Offensive odors;
  • Automobile wrecking;
  • Houses of prostitution;
  • Operation of steam shovels;
  • Hazardous buildings;
  • Three or more people obstructing the free passage of sidewalk traffic;
  • Icy sidewalks or driveways;
  • A building overhanging a public street;
  • Stockyards, slaughtering houses, and rendering works;
  • Gases and gas odors, including those emanating from gas plants, petroleum tanks, and engines;
  • Smoke, dirt, and cinders emitted from chimneys and smoke stacks;
  • Obstructions or pollution of public streets or waters;
  • Discharge of water and sewage unto adjacent lands; and
  • Cesspools.

Who Can Enforce a Nuisance?

For public nuisances, since it affects the community at large, they are enforced by city action—i.e., a prosecuting attorney. Minnesota law defines a “prosecuting attorney” as a city attorney, county attorney, or the state attorney general. Minn. Stat. § 617.80, subd. 9.

Private nuisance actions can be maintained by the person who is affected by the nuisance. There are limited circumstances, however, when a city can assume a duty to abate private nuisances. For this duty to exist, an individual needs to prove:

  • The city had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition;
  • There was a reasonable reliance by those subject to the council’s representation and conduct that the reliance was based on specific actions or representations which caused the person harmed to forgo other means of protection;
  • The ordinance set for a mandatory act intended to protect a particular class of people and not just the general public; and
  • The city’s action or inaction increased the risk of harm.

Cracraft v. City of St. Louis Park, 279 N.W.2d 801 (Minn. 1979).

In conclusion, there are ways to decrease “nuisance neighbors” under the laws of Minnesota.

This article was written by attorney Maureen A. Carlson.