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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 resorts to the courts. You could ask your lawyer to write to the tortfeasor (wrongdoer) if you have spoken to him or her without result.

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. {{more}}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 will 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 from continuing with the action.

The Noise Control Act

The laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines provide for noise control. Chapter 278 covers a variety of situations. Section 20 of the Act (amended in 1996) might be of interest to occupiers of property. It 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 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, inform the person that an action would be taken. They may confiscate the loud speaker or musical instrument to produce in court as an exhibit and must keep it in a safe place for production in court.

A police officer may take action without being informed by anyone, if he considers that there is excessive noise that disturbs or is likely to disturb the neighbourhood.

Where exhibits have been obtained, the police must bring the complaint before the magistrate within fourteen days of the confiscation. The magistrate must decide whether they would be returned, detained further or forfeited to the Crown.

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