If Your Business Makes Too Much Noise, You’re Going to Get Shut Down and Be Sued

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  • There is a legal action known as a “private nuisance”.
  • “The essence of a private nuisance is an unreasonable interference with the quiet use and enjoyment of a person’s land.” In evaluating whether there is a private nuisance, a trial court must weigh “[t]he benefit(s) of the defendant’s conduct . . . against the amount of harm to the victim(s)” in order to determine “whether the annoyance or disturbance arise(s) from an unreasonable use of the neighbor’s land or operation of his business.”  A private nuisance does not require proof of negligence.
  • Noise may constitute a nuisance where it presents “(1) injury to the health or comfort of ordinary people to an unreasonable extent, under all the circumstances.

Background to Case

Plaintiffs filed a complaint to restrain the violation of Hoboken’s noise ordinance and for damages to their quality of life.  In addition to seeking damages, plaintiffs requested punitive damages, attorney’s fees and court costs.  Of course, the defendants denied the allegations.

The Facts of This Noise Case

Plaintiffs were homeowners living immediately next door to a large national chain of gyms.  Plaintiffs experienced excessively loud music and the dropping of weights that originated from the neighboring gym.

The neighbors testified to being awakened at 5:30 am by vibrations and noise coming from the gym.  They could hear people screaming obscenities and repetitive thuds caused by the dropping of dumbbells and the throwing of medicine balls against the wall.  The homeowner(s) testified the noise was so loud it interfered with telephone conversations.  The noise disturbed sleep and was having a substantial impact on their life.  They described their life as “horrible” and a “nightmare”.

The owner testified about the efforts made to mitigate sounds and vibrations by using pads when weights were dropped, reducing the amount of loud speakers, and by moving the location of the music speaker.

The evidence of the case established there were nineteen separate instances when the impact of the noise exceeded the Hoboken noise ordinance.

The Analysis of the Courts in Its Decision

The trial court also found that the homeowners were “interested” parties under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-18, allowing them to enforce the Hoboken municipal sound ordinance.

The trial court found the landlord also liable.  In the lease, the landlord was obligated not to permit her tenant to engage in any activities that were a public nuisance.

The trial court ordered defendants to cease operations.  The landlord was restrained from re-renting the premises to any tenant who would operate a gym using the modalities of the current tenant including weightlifting or any apparatus attached to the walls.  The order barred the installation or use of a public music system.

The trial court found that defendants “created and maintained both a continuing and past [private] nuisance.”

The Appellate Court Affirmed the Case in Part and Reversed the Trial Court in Part

The trial court assessed $100,000 in punitive damages against the gym and its owner individually, under N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.12(a).  It found the “conditions were created exclusively from the activities engaged in by the athletes and staff of the gym with the full understanding and knowledge of its owner.  The court determined punitive damages were needed to punish and deter future actions.

Upon appeal, the Appellate Court found that under N.J.S.A. 40:55D-18 “an interested party . . . may institute any appropriate action or proceedings to . . . restrain, correct or abate [violation of a municipal ordinance].”  An “[i]nterested party” is defined as “any person, . . . whose right to use, acquire, or enjoy property is or may be affected by . . . an action or a failure to act under [this Act].”  N.J.S.A. 40:55D-4.

There is nothing in N.J.S.A. 40:55D-18 that prohibits the homeowners from instituting an action.

There was proof the noise and vibration significantly exceeded the municipal ordinance limits within plaintiffs’ premises.  The sound readings were taken early in the morning and late at night.  Plaintiffs testified there were rooms they could not use during certain parts of the day.  The sound interfered with their sleep; there was no place to avoid the sounds.

A landowner including a landlord can also be liable for a nuisance.  Generally, a landlord will not have liability for a nuisance on a leased premises unless the landlord “knew, or had reason to believe, that he was letting the property for a use which must prove injurious to the plaintiff”.  Hence, the trial court had ample evidence and legal support for its order finding liability by both the gym, its owner and the landlord for a private nuisance.

If you are looking for additional details on this topic or if you require advice about your situation, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing or telephone consultations if you are unable to come to our office.

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold Township, Monmouth County, NJ Business Law Attorney

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