Environmental Law > The Common Law and the Environment > The Law of Nuisance and the Environment
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The Law of Nuisance and the Environment

The most important aspect of the law of nuisance in regard to environmental rights is the law of private nuisance which recognises the right of an owner of land to enjoy his or her land in physical comfort, convenience and well-being without unreasonable interference from others. People do have to endure a certain amount of interference with their right to enjoy their land for example, smoke blowing across or noise generated by another person, as long as this interference is not unreasonable. If the interference is unreasonable then a landowner can take legal action to protect  his or her right to enjoy his or her land.

The person suffering the nuisance can apply to the court for: (a) an interdict to stop the person who is causing the nuisance from continuing with the conduct, and (b) damages (monetary compensation) where the conduct has resulted in financial loss. The claim can be made against the owner of the property. However, a landowner is not responsible for the nuisance caused by his tenant unless he authorised the nuisance.


Bethuel lives in a small town next to a disused quarry. The local authority uses the quarry to dump all of the household waste that is collects from residents. Bethuel has become sick as a result of living so close to the waste and has started to develop bad skin ailments.

What rights are affected?

  • Bethuel has a right to an environment not harmful to his health and well-being
  • The common law of nuisance gives him the right to enjoy his land without his enjoyment being unreasonably infringed

In this case it would be possible to argue that the municipality’s action in setting up the waste disposal site infringes Bethuel’s environmental right and constitutes a nuisance as it unreasonably infringes upon his right to enjoy his property in physical comfort, convenience and well-being.