nuisance, in law, an act that, without legal justification, interferes with safety, comfort, or the use of property. A private nuisance (e.g., erecting a wall that shuts off a neighbor's light) is one that affects one or a few persons, while a public nuisance (e.g., conducting a disorderly house) affects many persons. In some cases the victim of a private nuisance may abate it (e.g., tear down the wall). Damages are available to a party who suffers from a private nuisance or who is especially injured by a public nuisance, and courts will issue injunctions against continuing nuisances. Since public nuisances are injurious to the community, they may be prosecuted as crimes. Nuisance is a flexible legal category. Thus, while a slaughterhouse is lawful in a manufacturing district, it may be a nuisance in a residential quarter. Activities, such as operating blast furnaces, once deemed nuisances, are now recognized as indispensable and lawful.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.