The offence of public nuisance in Queensland is governed by the Summary Offences Act and is defined as ‘behaving in a disorderly, offensive, threatening or violent way’ where this interferes, or is likely to interfere with the enjoyment of a public place by the public (Section 6). To be found guilty of this offence, it is not necessary for a member of the public to actually be interfered with. It is enough that the behaviour is likely to have interfered with the public’s peaceful enjoyment of a public place. The maximum penalty for public nuisance under this provision is 10 penalty units or imprisonment for six months. A common example of behaviour that would amount to public nuisance is a loud argument involving swearing in the street or in a park.
Separate but related offences exist under the Summary Offences Act in relation to specific types of behaviour in public places, including urinating in public (section 7) begging in public (Section 8) wilful exposure (also known as ‘indecent exposure’) (Section 9) and being drunk in public (Section 10). There are also nuisance provisions within council by-laws, relating to the duty to avoid keeping animals that cause a nuisance.
For a first offence under any of these sections, you would be likely to receive an infringement, or on-the-spot fine. For serious of repeat offences, you would be likely to be summonsed to appear at court. If you receive an infringement in relation to a minor offence and you want to challenge it, you can elect to have the matter dealt with by a court instead.
When you are the occupier of a property, whether as an owner or a tenant, you have the right to quiet enjoyment of the premises. Any person who unreasonably interferes with that right is committing a private nuisance. Types of behaviour that may amount to private nuisance include:
- Loud music or other noise;
- Overhanging trees;
- Smoke or other pollutants;
- Unpleasant smell;
- Obstruction of a path;
- Block out a neighbour’s light
If these behaviours continue for a long period of time or are repeated often, it is more likely that they will amount to a legal nuisance. If they occur at an inconvenient time, such as loud music in the middle of the night, they are also more likely to amount to a nuisance.
What to do about a private nuisance?
If you are concerned that someone is causing you a private nuisance, the first step is to talk to them about what they are doing and explain why it is a problem. If you do this, be sure to exercise caution and avoid making the problem worse. If you have to enter a neighbour’s property in order to speak to them, be mindful that if they ask you to leave, you must do so.
If you are unable to resolve the situation by talking to the person responsible, you may want to consider making a complaint to your local council about the behaviour. Check your local council website for details of the types of complaint that it does and does not handle. If the complaint is one that the council does not handle, you may need to contact the police. They may be able to issue a fine or take some other action to prevent the nuisance from continuing.
If you have suffered a loss because of the behaviour, you may be able to bring an action in nuisance seeking damages. If the inconvenience is serious, you may be able to obtain an injunction to prevent the ongoing nuisance.
In some circumstances, you may be restricted from bringing an action in nuisance. For example, where the nuisance is caused by the operations of a commercial premises or a licenced premises, legislative protections may exist allowing the business to continue operating in the same way. If you move next door to a live music venue, for example, you are unlikely to be able to bring an action in nuisance in relation to the noise.
If you need legal advice or assistance in relation to public or private nuisance, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.