Although the common use of the word “nuisance” is something that annoys a person, nuisance laws actually deal with property. Under the law, persons in possession of property (either land owners or tenants) are entitled to the quiet enjoyment of their land/ property. Therefore, a nuisance is an act that interferes with the legitimate use of one’s property including a right to a clean and healthy environment and quiet possession of property.
Nuisances only consist of acts that interfere with the enjoyment of a person’s property but without any physical invasion or trespass.
Examples of nuisances include:
- Foul odours e.g. stables/ cowsheds, latrines, urinal, cesspool, soakaway pit, septic tank, cesspit, sewer, garbage receptacle, dust bin, dung pit, refuse pit etc.
- Strong/ Noxious smells/ fumes e.g. from factories
- Bright lights
- Blockage of light
- Loud or irritating noises e.g. from local makeshift cinema halls, places of worship, bars/ clubs etc.
- Incessant/ persistent vibrations
- Noxious matter, or waste water, flowing or discharged from any premises
- Major health hazards
- The unsafe storage of dangerous materials
- Obstruction/ blocking a road/ street
Nuisance actions are divided into public and private nuisances.
A public nuisance has the potential to affect the health, safety, welfare, and/or comfort of the general public/ entire community at large. In order for an action to qualify as a public nuisance, its negative effects should be felt on public land or in public spaces i.e. a community, perhaps the city/ town at large, or an otherwise significant area such as a whole neighbourhood.
This sort of wide-reaching nuisance is different from a private nuisance action that affects a few individuals.
Public nuisance applies to both intentional acts and negligent conduct.
The aim of this offence is to protect the health and safety of the general public.
Who can lodge a complaint of public nuisance in court?
No civil action can be brought by a private individual for public nuisance.
Only the state’s public officials always have standing to bring public nuisance actions in court.
Private individuals can only bring the public nuisance to the attention of the state officials. The local authorities/ public officials e.g. area local councils can then institute court proceedings to have that public nuisance addressed/ dealt with.
This is based on the premise that a person is allowed to use their property as they please but it must not be at the expense of their neighbour’s peaceful enjoyment of their property. One can only use their property within the acceptable limits of the law. If they violate this then they are in violation of their neighbour’s quiet enjoyment of land/ property and are committing a private nuisance.
A private nuisance is an injury to the use and enjoyment of particular land. It protects private rights and is also closely concerned with protection of the environment.
With a private nuisance, only one or a few property owners/ dwellers may be affected by an obnoxious smell, sound, light source etc., as opposed to an entire community. Therefore, if a neighbour interferes with that quiet enjoyment, either by creating smells, sounds, pollution or any other hazard that extends past the boundaries of the property, the affected party may make a claim under private nuisance.
Ways to address incidents of nuisance & where to report;
- Dialogue – Both parties can talk things over in order to amicably address the nuisance.
- If dialogue fails, the affected party can report the matter to;
- the area Local Council (Every local authority (area local council) has powers to take all lawful, necessary and practicable measures for maintaining its area at all times in clean and sanitary condition, and for remedying any nuisance or condition liable to be injurious or dangerous to health and to take proceedings at law against any person causing or responsible for the continuance of such nuisance).
- The police
- National Environment Management Authority (NEMA)
- Courts of law
- KCCA (if in Kampala)
- Legal Service Providers e.g. Justice Centres Uganda
- Injunction issued by court (to stop the person from conducting the action/ preventing the offending property owner from continuing the nuisance activity). This may also include renovations or changes to a property in order to mitigate the nuisance
- Damages – Compel the perpetrator to pay for any damages caused by the nuisance
- NEMA is mandated to issue environmental notices and environmental restoration orders to anyone to restrict them or to stop them from undertaking and/or proceeding with an activity that is deleterious to human health or the environment.
- Every local authority (area local council) shall take all lawful, necessary and reasonably practicable measures for maintaining its area at all times in clean and sanitary condition, and for preventing the occurrence in the area of, or for remedying or causing to be remedied, any nuisance or condition liable to be injurious or dangerous to health and to take proceedings at law against any person causing or responsible for the continuance of any such nuisance or condition.
The National Environmental Act, Cap 153
Public Health Act, Cap. 281
National Environment (Noise and Vibrations Standard & Control) Regulations 2013
The Local Governments (Kampala City Council) (Maintenance of Law And Order) Ordinance, 2006