Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Types of nuisance

Types of nuisance

There are two types of nuisance: common law nuisance and statutory nuisance.

Common law nuisance

If you cause a nuisance that causes harm to people or damages property you may be causing a private nuisance and could be sued by individuals or organisations. You may have to attend a court hearing and pay compensation or damages.

If the nuisance is affecting a public space or a large number of people, you may be causing a public nuisance. You may have to pay compensation or damages. Your local council may also take action against you to restrict your activities or prosecute you.

If the nuisance occurs because of a structural defect on your premises, action may be taken against you as the owner of the premises, even if you're not the person responsible for causing the nuisance. Action may be taken against you if the person responsible for causing the nuisance cannot be found. You can also be found liable if the nuisance has not yet occurred, but is likely to occur.

Statutory nuisance

Nuisances caused by certain conditions set out in legislation are called statutory nuisances. A statutory nuisance can be caused by:

  • noise and vibration
  • smoke, fumes or gases
  • dust
  • steam
  • odours
  • kept animals
  • waste deposits, for example with the risk of vermin
  • poor state of premises
  • foul, stagnant or obstructed water
  • insects coming from your business premises
  • artificial lighting.

If your local environmental health officer finds that a statutory nuisance exists, or is likely to occur or recur, your local council can serve you with an abatement notice. An abatement notice can require you to:

  • stop causing a nuisance or impose restrictions on your operations to prevent any further occurrence
  • carry out works or take other steps to restrict or remove the nuisance.

An abatement notice is a legal document and if you do not comply with it you could be prosecuted.

Individuals can also bring a statutory nuisance case to court.

Permit and exemption conditions

If you have a pollution prevention and control permit, a waste management licence or a waste exemption, it may contain conditions that control emissions, such as noise, dust or odour. You must comply with all of the conditions in your permit, licence or exemption. If you don't comply your environmental regulator, or in Northern Ireland your district council, can take enforcement action against you, such as issuing you with an enforcement notice or a suspension notice for breach of a condition.

For more information, see our guideline: Environmental permits and licences - an overview

Further information

DAERA: Guidance to District Councils on statutory nuisances

Health Protection Scotland: Statutory nuisance guidance

Scottish Government: Statutory nuisance

In this Guideline

Types of nuisance

Good practice to avoid causing nuisance

Noise and vibration nuisances

Odour, dust and smoke nuisances

Litter nuisances

Artificial light nuisance

Construction site nuisances

Environmental legislation for nuisances

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