Updated November 1, 2010
In a landlord-tenant context, a nuisance is the obstruction of the free use of rental property so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life. Civil Code § 3479 (West 2010). This has been routinely applied to property owners who fail to maintain residential rental units. Stoiber v. Honeychuck, 101 Cal. App. 3d 903, 920 (1980).
To prove a claim for nuisance, a tenant must show (1) that the landlord leased the property; (2) that the landlord, in acting or failing to act, created a condition that was harmful to health, 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; (3) that this condition interfered with tenant’s free use of the leasehold; (4) that an ordinary person would be reasonably annoyed or disturbed by landlord’s conduct; and (5) that the tenant was harmed because of the nuisance. CACI 2021 (2010).
It must be a substantial and unreasonable interference, such as “smoke from an asphalt mixing plant, noise and odors from the operation of a refreshment stand, or the noise and vibration of machinery.” Oliver v. AT&T Wireless Services, 76 Cal. App. 4th 521, 534 (1999). The standard is whether it is offensive or inconvenient to the normal person. Koll-Irvine Center Property Owners Assn., 24 Cal. App. 4th 1036, 1041 (1994). Substantial is anything that is offensive, seriously annoying, or intolerable. San Diego Gas & Electric Co. v. Superior Court, 13 Cal. 4th 893 (1996). To be unreasonable, the gravity of the harm must outweigh the social utility of the conduct. Id. at 938–939.
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