Disagreeing with a neighbor can be part of living in a neighborhood or apartment building, but sometimes a person’s behavior can cross the line into illegal activity. CA Penal Code 372 & 373(a) deal with instances when a neighbor’s actions create a public nuisance that affects the ability of neighbors to enjoy their land.
Criminal charges can be brought against the offender when there is evidence they have willfully maintained a nuisance or failed to remove the cause of it. If you need help fighting back against a charge under this section of California law, you should rely on a dedicated, aggressive lawyer who has experience with these kinds of cases.
CA Penal Code 372 & 373(a) in Detail
CA Penal Code 372 – Public Nuisance covers acts that are not otherwise outlined in law with specific punishments. It is classified as a misdemeanor. This law is meant to discourage individuals from maintaining or committing a public nuisance. It also addresses the failure to remove the cause of a nuisance.
Code 373(a) is slightly different and addresses actions taken after a public nuisance has occurred. It requires that the defendant be officially notified of the issue. The law specifically applies when the defendant meets any of the following requirements:
- Maintains, permits, or allows a public nuisance to exist on their property
- Occupies or leases the property or premises of someone else who maintains, permits, or allows a public nuisance to exist on their premises
- Willfully fails to perform any legal duty relating to removing the nuisance
In addition to any of these conditions, the defendant also must have received written notice from the district attorney or a health officer to discontinue the public nuisance. Every day that a nuisance is allowed to exist after the notice has been received is considered a separate and distinct offense. Failure to comply with the notice can quickly become a serious problem.
Examples of a Public Nuisance
A public nuisance is not simply a disagreement between neighbors about whether one can plant a tree in their yard. California Civil Code §3480 clarifies that the nuisance must affect an entire community or neighborhood or a considerable group of people. The individuals must be impacted in some way, although not everyone will experience the same level of annoyance or damage.
Suppose a neighbor leaves their pet dog outside day and night, no matter the weather. The dog will usually bark for attention, often preventing neighbors from being able to sleep. The next-door neighbors will hear the dog’s barking the loudest.
However, if that dog triggers other dogs in the neighborhood to bark, the effect can be more widespread than just a few surrounding houses. Other examples of public nuisance include:
- Failing to maintain one’s home and property, allowing trash to accumulate, grass and weeds to grow high, or attracting pests into the community.
- Having regular parties or gatherings that result in loud noise late into the night and excessive garbage on the street.
- Failing to reduce fire hazards by not removing dried leaves during fire season, putting everyone at risk, and violating California public safety codes.
A one-time party does not necessarily constitute a public nuisance and may fall under the code for disturbing the peace. It is also not a public nuisance to leave your yard unmowed while you are recovering from an illness for a few days. CA Penal Code 372 & 373(a) both apply more precisely to long-term issues that affect public health and safety.
Penalties for a Public Nuisance Charge
If you face a public nuisance misdemeanor charge, it can mean more than just bad blood between neighbors. It can mean that you could face jail time and fines. Specifically, you could be given 6 months in jail and a $1000 fine for every day that the nuisance is allowed to continue.
Instead of letting those charges pile up, you should remove the nuisance if possible and contact a skilled attorney to defend you in court.
Defending Yourself Against a Public Nuisance Charge
There are a few solid defenses you can use against a charge of creating a public nuisance. For example, you could argue that the large party you threw was a one-time event and that you cleaned up the street afterward. Other common defenses include:
- Only a few people were affected by the situation.
- You did not receive a notice from the district attorney or a health officer.
- You tried but were unable to remove the nuisance.
- You did not actually cause a nuisance.
In some instances, even these defenses can be difficult, such as in the case of landlords. Even though the property owner may not be the one throwing a party or allowing trash to accumulate, they are responsible for the actions of their tenants. If the tenants are causing a public nuisance, they may be charged separately, but the property owner is ultimately responsible for what their tenants do.
In situations where perhaps leaves have accumulated in your yard, you may be able to argue that a neighbor uses a leaf blower to move the leaves onto your property. This would cause a nuisance in your yard that is not directly your fault. This is just one example and your defense attorney will be able to suggest others after discussing your unique situation in detail.
Get Help Fighting a CA Penal Code 372 & 373(a) – Public Nuisance Charge
If your circumstances have resulted in a charge under CA Penal Code 372 or 373(a), do not accept the potential fines and jail time without help. You have the right to qualified legal representation to fight back against unfair or unfounded charges. If the situation has been out of your control or there are factors that explain your side of the story, those arguments need to be heard in your defense.
Contact an experienced attorney today. We offer free case evaluations with no risk and no obligation. We are ready to listen to your story and advise you on your options to achieve the best outcome available to you.