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Nuisance next door

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Being mindful and considerate of your neighbours is all very well, but what if that approach is not reciprocated and your use and enjoyment of your property is compromised by the same neighbours that you have worked hard to get along with?

Definition of private nuisance

First of all, one needs to understand what is meant in a legal sense by the term ‘nuisance’. Something can be annoying or irritating without it necessarily giving you a legal basis for bringing a claim. According to common law, a private nuisance is when one land owner does something on their own land which interferes with the “ordinary use” of neighbouring land.

The 1997 case of Hunter v Canary Wharf Ltd identified three examples of private nuisance:-

  1. encroachment on neighbouring land;
  2. direct physical injury to a neighbour’s land;
  3. interference with a neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of their land.

A nuisance may arise in other examples too but the three examples above provide a simple summary of three common categories.

It is important to keep in mind the following principles:-

  1. The interference or damage must be substantial or unreasonable. A trivial interference is not going to be entertained by the Court.
  2. Nuisance can arise from a single incident, a continuing incident, or a combination of separate incidents.
  3. Nuisance can arise from a positive action but equally also from inaction.

6-year limitation period

A claim for nuisance has a limitation period of 6 years. That is to say, if a claim is not issued within 6 years of the date of the nuisance, the claim will be statute-barred.

For a nuisance that is continuing, the limitation period may also continue to run, so effectively one does not need to worry about the 6-year period expiring. That is because each day represents a fresh continuance of the nuisance and a re-setting of the limitation clock.

The Supreme Court dealt with this issue in the 2023 case of Jalla v Shell International Trading and Shipping Co Ltd.

The case concerned an oil spill that occurred in 2011. Oil had washed up on the shore of the Claimant’s land. The Claimant brought a claim within the 6-year limitation period on the grounds of nuisance. During the course of the proceedings, the Claimant attempted to bring an additional claim, alleging that the oil spill was a continuing nuisance rather than a one-off nuisance that had occurred in 2011. The distinction was important because if the oil spill was deemed to be a one-off nuisance that occurred in 2011 and was not deemed to be a continuing nuisance, the Claimant was too late to bring an additional claim.  

The Supreme Court held that the oil spill was not a continuing nuisance. The leak was an isolated incident. There had been no repeated or ongoing action and so the limitation clock had started when the oil reached the Claimant’s land and had expired 6 years later. Accordingly, the Claimant was unable to bring the additional claim; it was out of time.

In summary, identifying whether a neighbour’s nuisance behaviour does actually fall within the legal definition of a ‘nuisance’ is essential at an early stage. Whilst oil spills are unlikely to be a concern for most property owners and neighbours, keeping an eye on that 6 year limitation clock can be important, particularly in circumstances where there may be some ambiguity as to whether something is an ongoing, recurring act of nuisance or a one-off act of nuisance.   

If you would like advice in relation to issues raised in this blog, please contact Roanna Cooling at or on 01242 574 244.

The information contained on this page has been prepared for the purpose of this blog/article only. The content should not be regarded at any time as a substitute for taking legal advice.