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The tort of Nuisance

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A tort is a civil wrong (as opposed to a criminal wrong) done to someone for which there is a remedy in the civil court. Torts are committed by and against many persons in everyday life, but not everyone resort to the courts. You could ask your lawyer to write to the tortfeasor (wrongdoer) if you have spoken to him or her without results.

Nuisance is one of the familiar torts. It is essentially some sort of annoyance above the tolerance and endurance level of a person. It is not simply something that annoys one’s sensitivity. The normal noise, like the crying of a baby, could be annoying, but does not amount to a tort. There are two types of nuisance – public and private. We would focus on the private nuisance.

The law affords quiet enjoyment to the owner or tenant of the real property in his possession. In fact, the vendor in a deed of conveyance promises quiet enjoyment to the purchaser and the landlord also promises the same to his tenant. If someone interferes with the quiet enjoyment of that property by creating offensive smells, sounds, noise, or any hazard, then the property owner or the occupier affected could approach the court to have the nuisance abated or controlled. A remedy could be obtained under the Common Law in the form of damages (monies paid to compensate) or in Equity in the form of an injunction to prevent the tortfeasor (person who committed the act) from continuing with the action.

The Noise Control Act

The laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines provide for noise control. The act deals with the control of noise and the action that could be taken by the police.

In this case anyone who uses a loudspeaker or plays an amplified musical instrument causing noise at an unreasonable level is guilty of an offence. Anyone who is disturbed by the noise can complain to the police. The police must notify the person who is suspected of causing the noise “to reduce and maintain the level of noise”. The police could thereafter issue a warning and in addition may, where the circumstances warrant, informed the person that an action would be taken.

Civil proceedings could be pursued in the High Court or Magistrate’s Court against any persons “in respect of grievances involving noise or vibration as a result of acts or omissions.”

The Act states clearly, “excessive noise is objectionable and always actionable” and is against public interest. Where permission is granted to use loud speakers and musical instruments, the volume must still be kept to a reasonable level.

The court will take into consideration the question of reasonableness in making a determination.

Since we all have to exist in the same environment, it is incumbent on all occupiers of property not to create nuisance that would affect their neighbours. We have an obligation and a civic duty to do the right thing towards our neighbour and to avoid an unnecessary lawsuit.

Consider the pounding of that amplified noise in your neighbour’s ears. By the time it reaches the ears of others it is no longer music, but a range of pounding, thumping, pulsating, throbbing sounds causing headaches to the listener. The person who hears it could be a nurse who worked all night, now trying to get some sleep, a baby, or a regular person trying to enjoy his or her own rights in his or her own space. Be mindful of others. Music is beautiful. Noise is not. Play your music in moderation, it is for you, not me.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law. E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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