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There are two types of nuisance defined by law:

  • A private nuisance is defined as unlawful interference with a person’s right to enjoy their property and compensation or damages might be sought. Some damage or effect must happen
  • A public nuisance is something which endangers or interferes with the lives and/or safety of the general public

Generally, a statutory nuisance may be described as an unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of your property. It must happen regularly and continue for long enough for it to be unreasonable.

There are some things that are unlikely to be a statutory nuisance such as a one-off party, arguing neighbours, a baby crying or a dog barking occasionally.

By law we have to investigate allegations of statutory nuisance, but we have no control over:

  • road traffic or engine noise on a public highway
  • people shouting or screaming on a public road or footpath
  • dust, steam or smells from a railway locomotive steam engine
  • air traffic noise such as low flying jets can be reported to the RAF Liaison Officer on 01768 891 391. General aircraft noise is dealt with by the Civil Aviation Authority.

There is no maximum noise limit and we will take into account the:

  • time of the noise (either day or night)
  • duration of the noise
  • frequency of occurrence of the noise
  • type of noise
  • intensity of the noise
  • social acceptance of the noise, such as church bells or fireworks on Bonfire Night
  • location of the noise
  • motive for the noise

The law on Statutory Nuisance

It’s covered by part lll of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 which has been amended over the years.

Section 79 of this Act defines statutory nuisance as any:                               

a) premises in such a state as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

b) smoke emitted from a premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

c) fumes or gases emitted from a premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance (from private dwelling only)

d) dust, steam, smell or other effluvia arising on industrial, trade or business premises and being prejudicial to health or a nuisance

e) accumulation or deposit which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance

f) animal kept in such a way as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

 (fa) insects emanating from relevant industrial, trade or business premises being prejudicial to health or a nuisance

 (fb) artificial light emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

g) noise emitted from premises so as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance

 (ga) noise that is prejudicial to health or a nuisance and is emitted from or caused by a vehicle, machinery or equipment in a street

h) other matter declared by any enactment to be a statutory nuisance

Some nuisance action must be taken under different Acts, for example dark smoke from industrial premises falls under the Clean Air Act 1993.

What action can you take if you think something is a nuisance

In the first instance it’s best to try and contact the person responsible for the nuisance directly. They may be unaware of the problem and might take action voluntarily to prevent the nuisance.

If this doesn’t work you can contact us and we will take steps to reasonably investigate the complaint. If you don’t want to involve us, or if we can't take action, you can take action privately (see Private Nuisance Action below).

You can phone us on 01539 733 333 or report problems online using our forms: 

Report a noise complaint

Report a smell complaint

Report a smoke complaint

If you are a tenant, or you are aware that the property where the nuisance is coming from is owned by a landlord or housing association, then you should also contact that landlord and explain the problem.

What we will do once a nuisance allegation is reported

  1. Once we receive a complaint we will try and contact the person believed to be responsible for the nuisance.
  2. This is usually done in writing and we advise them on the complaint and the legal position. We will not release the identity of the person who is complaining (the complainant) at this stage.
  3. We will also ask the complainant to keep and return a monitoring diary in case the problem continues.
  4. If things don't improve, once the monitoring diary has been completed and returned to us we will assess whether a statutory nuisance exists. The complainant will be asked at this stage whether they would be willing to give evidence in court if required.
  5. In most cases the investigating officer will then need to get evidence to confirm the nuisance as outlined in the monitoring diary. This might involve visiting and experiencing the nuisance or installing monitoring equipment. Generally we make up to three attempts to record or witness the nuisance. If no evidence is gained by this time the investigation will be closed. If circumstances change it may be possible to re-open the investigation.
  6. If the investigating officer finds evidence of a nuisance we will serve an Abatement Notice on the person responsible, or the owner of the land if that person can’t be found. Any appeal can be made within 21 days.
  7. Where the person fails to comply with the Notice, we have the power to take enforcement action. This might involve seizing equipment where necessary or taking action to stop the nuisance such as disconnecting a burglar alarm. However this is not always possible and in most cases the next step will involve prosecution.
  8. The final step is legal action and taking the person responsible for the nuisance to court. The investigating officer will need to gather together all the evidence from the investigation and this will include statements from people affected by the nuisance. Monitoring diaries will also be used. The complainant will usually be expected to give evidence in court in order to prove the case and at this stage they must be willing for their name to made public. If found guilty the person responsible will be fined and other restrictions may be put on them to prevent the nuisance re-occurring.

Private Nuisance Action

If we do not take action or you do not wish to involve us, a Magistrates Court may act on a complaint if it’s proved to be a nuisance. If they’re satisfied a nuisance exists the court can make an Order for one or both of the following:

  • requiring the person causing the nuisance to stop in a specific time
  • not allowing the nuisance to start again

The court may also fine the defendant up to a maximum of £5,000. If the person then causes a nuisance without reasonable excuse after an Order has been made by the Court, they have committed a further offence and may be fined again. Only one person need make a complaint.

How to pursue private nuisance action

You might want to speak to a solicitor who will be able to advise you on your case and how successful court action might be. Alternatively you can proceed without legal help.

How to proceed without legal help

Write to the person involved, telling them about the disturbances and that you intend to seek legal advice if the nuisance continues. Ensure the letter is dated and keep a copy.

Start recording evidence of the nuisance, including:

  • a description of the nuisance, where it comes from and what is causing it
  • when the nuisance happens and how long it lasts
  • how much the nuisance interferes with the use of your property i.e. how much of a nuisance it is to you
  • details of any other people disturbed by the nuisance who will appear in court as witness on your behalf

The nuisance monitoring forms previously sent to you during the council investigation may be used.

If you decide to take formal action on this evidence you must write to them again giving them at least three days notice of your intention to proceed to the Magistrates Court. You must clearly state what you are complaining about. Ensure the letter is dated and keep a copy.

What happens at the Magistrates Court

  1. Firstly, contact the Clerk to the Justice and explain that you wish to make a complaint under Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
  2. Arrange to visit the Court when asked to do so by the clerk and show the Magistrate your evidence. If they decide you have an arguable case, a summons will be served on the person responsible for the nuisance, giving the date and time of the Court hearing.
  3. You must then attend the Court on this date together with any witnesses you have. You can either employ a Solicitor or present the case yourself. If you choose the second option the Clerk of the Court will give you advice and guidance.
  4. The Magistrate will listen to evidence from yourself and the defendant and decide if a nuisance is proven. They will make any appropriate Orders and penalties or dismiss the case. Whatever decision is reached, they may apportion costs incurred in bringing the case eg solicitor’s fees, as it sees fit. It is a good idea to know your costs before the hearing.

Advice on nuisance


Is your dog barking too much?

Light pollution

Using wood and coal for home heating

Garden bonfires

A guide to keeping poultry (PDF/60KB/2 pages)

Burglar alarms (PDF/442KB/1 page)

Nuisance and planning 

The Environmental Protection Group is consulted on planning applications which might cause a nuisance.

If you have concerns about a development tell the relevant planning authority.

If you are a developer and need to submit environmental information speak to us before submitting a planning application. This will help make sure you give us the correct information.

Nuisance and pests

It is the responsibility of landowners and occupiers to ensure that rats and mice are controlled on their property and land. Where this is not done, we can use our powers to enforce land owners and occupiers to take action and control vermin.

Further information about pest control 

Nuisance and licensing

The Environmental Protection Group is consulted on licensing applications. Conditions can be requested to prevent noise nuisance.