Do you have an irresponsible neighbor who is creating a public nuisance? According to section 370 of the California Penal Code, a public nuisance is defined as:
“injurious to health, or is indecent, or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property by an entire community or neighborhood, or by any considerable number of persons, is a public nuisance”
Some examples of a public nuisance include:
- Continual criminal activity associated to a residence or business in your neighborhood.
- Loud music or unruly parties continually occurring at a residence.
- An unauthorized business operating from a residence, which is causing unnecessary amounts of traffic or noise.
- Excessive amounts of garbage or trash outside a residence or business.
pile of junk cars
Many public nuisance issues can be resolved by peacefully addressing the problem with the involved subjects. Many times the subjects causing the nuisance are unaware that they are negatively affecting their neighborhood. If the nuisance cannot be resolved between neighbors, then you may consider following the below listed steps.
1. Document dates and times when the nuisance is occurring.
2. If the nuisance is related to a residence, find out if the residence is owner occupied or if it is being rented.
3. If the residence is being rented, locate the name and mailing address of the property owner by contacting the County Assessor’s Office..
4. Write a letter to the owner of the residence or business and advise them of the public nuisance issues that are associated with their property.
dilapidated old house
If the nuisance continues, then you are entitled to file a small claims action against the property owner. Listed below are some steps to follow when building a small claims action:
1. Build a neighborhood group of owners who are also affected by the public nuisance and ask them to file a small claims action. Visit the small claims court clerk and let them know what you are doing; there is free advice from a Small Claims Court Advisor. Ask the small claims clerk to schedule the same court date and time to hear all the complaints.
2. Your small claims action must be served on the legal owner of the property. This process is called “service of process” and can be action can be delivered by certified mail or in person, which is recommended. You can hire a professional process server for this process.
3. You can sue for the maximum amount allowed in small claims of $7500.00 twice a year, and $2500 thereafter.
4. If there was any police action regarding the public nuisance situation, then subpoena the police officer to testify. You can also subpoena any officer reports or activity log records. Any other records from the Fire Department, Health Department or Code Enforcement may be helpful in court.
5. Prepare a personal statement for the court explaining the emotional and mental distress that the public nuisance has caused you. Be prepared to show the court individual monetary damages related to the case.
6. No lawyers are to be present in Small Claims Court. This matter is strictly between you and the property owner. Be patient and state your case carefully, always being aware of the Judges direct questions. Try not to elaborate, just state the facts directly related to the case.
Your position is simple: The property owner is maintaining a nuisance, acting negligently, and has not responded to your requests. The actions of the public nuisance have deprived you of the quiet use and enjoyment of your premises and / or caused you emotional distress.
Maintaining a neighborhood is everyone’s job. Do not allow one neighbor to ruin your neighborhood by neglecting their property. You have legal recourse to protect your property rights!
Below are links for Yuba City residents:
Yuba City Police Department 530-822-4660
County of Sutter Small Claims Division 530-822-3304