Statutory nuisance

Defining a statutory nuisance

A statutory nuisance is something that, under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, affects a person’s health or causes disturbance to them in their property. Nuisance can broadly be defined as something that unreasonably affects somebody's use and enjoyment of their home and property.

Noise is the most frequently complained of nuisance issue although there are other things that can be considered as nuisances. These include smoke (e.g. from garden bonfires), dust, odour, and accumulations. The Environmental Protection Act 1990 lists other specific types of nuisance.

View more information on what counts as a statutory nuisance and how councils can deal with complaints.

In all assessments of nuisance the Public Protection Officer investigating the case, not the complainant, makes the decision on whether a nuisance exists. Case law requires the Officer to act as the ‘standard person’ when reaching the decision. Therefore, those who have a different or higher expectation of peace, such as shift workers or people who are studying/ill, may not always get the result they want.

To take action on your behalf the Environmental Protection Team must witness and experience the nuisance you are complaining about for themselves. They must also be satisfied that they have evidence to show to a court that the disturbance is serious enough to be considered a ‘statutory nuisance’ in a legal sense.

The Council must take steps as are ‘reasonably practicable’ to investigate a complaint and has no duty to take legal action unless it is satisfied that a nuisance exists. Whilst every effort is made to investigate a nuisance, there are occasions when Officers do not witness the problem or fail to gather enough evidence to demonstrate that it exists - for example, if the noise is irregular.

Section 82 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows you to take your own civil action against a nuisance. If you plan on taking action under Section 82.

Examples of things that do not constitute a nuisance:

  • a person carrying out DIY during the day and at weekends over a few weeks
  • noise from children playing in their garden
  • a odour or smell coming from a domestic property
  • normal noise from aircraft, roads or railways
  • a party which happened just a couple times a year and finished at a reasonable time in the evening
  • smoke and noise from a bonfire or fireworks on bonfire night
  • a bonfire that a neighbour has from time to time and isn't giving rise to dark smoke
  • footsteps, talking, babies crying or television noise (non excessive) from a neighbouring property that could be heard due to poor/substandard sound insulation between the properties.

Reporting nuisances online is our preferred reporting medium as we can clearly and concisely get the relevant information we require to look further into your complaint further. Please note that should we be able to take your complaint further to the investigation phase, you will likely be required to fill in diary sheet records usually for a minimum of two weeks which will record when and how the alleged nuisance is effecting you and if required these diary sheets may be presented in a court of law in the future.

Section 79 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 lists the issues that can be dealt with as statutory nuisances.

Click on the following headings to see details of the types of statutory nuisances we can investigate.

The council have powers to deal with accumulations of rubbish that may be a public health nuisance. If an accumulation is likely to harbour or attract rodents, or present a health risk for humans, enforcement action can be taken on the persons responsible. This action can either be voluntary removal of the refuse accumulation or legal action in the form of a statutory notice.

If the legal notice is not complied with, the council can arrange for the work to be carried out in default. If this occurs, the person(s) responsible for the land would be then be charged for the cost of the work and they may also be prosecuted for their failure to comply with the legal notice.

The Public Protection team has powers to deal with any accumulation or deposit arising on private, domestic or commercial property, which is prejudicial to health or a nuisance (Environmental Protection Act 1990) or is, or is likely to, harbour or attract rodents (Prevention of Damage by Pest Act 1949).

Where the owner or occupier of the land is unwilling to cooperate with advice, and informal requests to remove the accumulation are ignored, the Public Protection team may take formal enforcement action and serve an Abatement Notice requiring them to remove it within a specified period of time.

The scope of the notice will vary, depending upon circumstances and may also stipulate specific 'works' or maintenance schedules to keep the land or property free from rodents and in a manner that will not cause a Statutory Nuisance.

If the accumulation is not removed in accordance with the specifications of the Abatement Notice the Public Protection team may carry out one or both of the following;

Arrange for removal of the accumulation and recover all reasonable costs incurred (including Officers time) from the person on whom the Notice was served. Prosecute the person on whom the notice was served.

For domestic properties, there are no laws which prohibit having a bonfire. Someone can light a bonfire at any time as often as they like. However, if it causes a statutory nuisance, the council can do something about it. For a bonfire to be classed as such a nuisance, the smoke will have to be substantially affecting you in your home and/or garden. It will also likely need to be happening on a regular basis not just a one off or a few times throughout the year.

There are laws relating to burning trade waste on industrial or commercial premises. If these bonfires emit dark smoke, then an offence is committed and the Council or Environment Agency can take action which could include prosecuting the offender. Please see the sub heading dark smoke offences for further information.

Tips to prevent a smoke nuisance

  • Ask yourself do I really need a bonfire, could you take the material to the local recycling centre or compost the material?
  • Before having a bonfire, let your neighbours know. This gives them an opportunity to shut their windows and bring any washing indoors and can significantly reduce the chance of a complaint.
  • Avoid having a bonfire when the wind is blowing onto neighbouring properties.
  • Site the bonfire away from the houses.
  • Smoke which blows across a highway is an immediate offence.
  • Avoid burning when the air is still and damp in the air or in the evenings when smoke tends to hangs on the air.
  • Never use petrol, methylated spirits or similar to light the fire.
  • Ensure that plastics, painted materials, plywood and chipboard are not burned as they give off poisonous chemicals, some of which can cause cancer.
  • Try to burn only dry material which burn very quickly resulting in minimum smoke generation.

Dark smoke offences

  • If a bonfire held on commercial or industrial premises gives rise to dark smoke an offence is committed.
  • The occupier of the land and the person who caused or permitted the smoke can be taken to court and may be fined.
  • To take a prosecution for dark smoke it must be confirmed that the smoke met the legal definition of dark smoke. This requires observations of the smoke and burnt material to be undertaken by a trained officer.
  • Dark smoke offences do not apply to domestic premises "except where trade or industrial waste is burnt on domestic premises".

Insects can become a statutory nuisance when they are traceable to a commercial activity and there is a noticeable increase in their numbers, which interferes with the comfort and enjoyment of another’s home.

Flies are carriers of various diseases that can have a negative impact on human health. Therefore it is essential to ensure that they are not allowed to increase significantly in numbers and breeding sites are quickly identified and eradicated where possible.

The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 amended the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to bring insects under the statutory nuisance regime. The legislation only relates to insects emanating from relevant trade or business premises. It does not apply where the source of the problem is a domestic property.

Working out the source of nuisance can sometimes be a difficult and lengthy process, as flying insects can travel considerable distances.

Likely sources of insect nuisance include:

  • poultry houses/farms (buildings on agricultural land are not exempt)
  • sewage treatment works
  • manure/silage storage areas
  • animal housing
  • stagnant ditches and drains
  • landfill sites, refuse tips and waste transfer stations.

This provision does not apply to insects from domestic premises or to insects listed in Schedule 5 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, unless they are included in that Schedule solely to prevent their trade or sale. There are also exemptions for certain types of land, including arable land, ponds, lakes, reed beds, orchards and nurseries.

Since 6 April 2006 the Council can investigate light that affects a person in their property under the statutory nuisance provision of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Minimising light nuisance from external lights

If you are installing security and other lights, then more information on minimising light nuisance can be found in the 'Getting Light Right publication' on the GOV.UK website.

Odour is airborne smell that is produced by many substances and is detected by our sensory perception. Odours can be carried long distances in the air and thus have the ability to affect a large number of people. The degree to which people are affected by offensive odour will however depend on the sensitivity of their sense of smell and their tolerance of the odour in question.

The Council can take action under Section 80 of The Environmental Protection Act 1990 in cases where a statutory nuisance is found to exist. Examples of the types of problems we may be able to deal with include:

  • fumes from boilers, etc
  • dust from loading operations or commercial activities
  • smoke from bonfires or chimneys
  • accumulations of waste (e.g. dog faeces, food items, etc.)
  • odour arising from the manner in which animals are kept
  • filthy premises
  • dust from construction sites
  • odour from industrial, trade or business premises (including agricultural activities).

We will not normally deal with everyday issues arising from ordinary activities such as cooking odours from domestic sources or transient issues such as dust from a farmer combining a field of wheat. There are also occasions when nothing further can be done and you should be aware that if you live close to sewage works, farmland on which slurry is spread, a refuse tip or certain other activities you may be affected by these activities from time to time. In these circumstances all we can do is to require that the operator do what he reasonably can to minimise those impacts.

In general people are allowed to keep pet animals as long as they do not cause a statutory nuisance or a health hazard to people around them. Pet owners have a duty to ensure their pets are kept in such a way that they do not interfere with their neighbour's enjoyment of their homes. Animals that are not kept in suitable conditions can cause problems in relation to noise, odour and waste.

We try to resolve problems by offering help and advice but in circumstances where we determine there is a statutory nuisance we can use the powers available in the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

For advice relating to noise nuisance please see our Noise nuisance web page.

Last updated: 12.40pm on Tuesday 8 October 2019

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