Cow Manure not a Neighbour Nuisance
Friday 13 August 2021
A property owner complains of the odours from cow manure stocked near to their property.
In a recent case heard in the French court of appeal, a buyer purchased a property located in the Cantal department of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
Subsequently, they complained of odours coming from cow manure being stocked by a local farmer near to their property.
The land on which the manure was stocked was in the ownership of the complainant, but used by the farmer on a farm tenancy, which dated from 1989, and which the new owner assumed on acquisition of the property. As a farm tenancy (bail rural*) the farmer had a tenancy for life.
In French law, damage suffered by the occupants of a property by nuisance from a neighbouring business activity does not give rise to compensation if the activity pre-dates the new construction or sale/lease of the property, provided the business activity was being exercised in conformity with the law.
Article L.112.6 of the Code de la construction et de l’habitation states:
'Les dommages causés aux occupants d’un bâtiment par des nuisances dues à des activités agricoles, industrielles, artisanales, commerciales ou aéronautiques, n’entraînent pas droit à réparation lorsque le permis de construire afférent au bâtiment exposé à ces nuisances a été demandé ou l’acte authentique constatant l’aliénation ou la prise de bail établi postérieurement à l’existence des activités les occasionnant dès lors que ces activités s’exercent en conformité avec les dispositions législatives ou réglementaires en vigueur et qu’elles se sont poursuivies dans les mêmes conditions.'
Nevertheless, that immunity ceases if there has been a material change in the nature of the activity resulting in an increase in the level of the nuisance. A complainant would need to provide proof of the changes in the nature or scale of the activity.
An investigation of the circumstances by the local regional health authority established that the manure was being stored on an abandoned road less than 20 meters from the house belonging to the owner.
They stated that this was in contravention of local health regulations, which prescribed a minimum distance of 50 metres.
The issue, therefore, before the court was to determine whether the nuisance from the manure constituted a statutory nuisance, defined in law as a nuisance in excess of the normal inconveniences of being a neighbour (un trouble excédant les inconvénients normaux du voisinage).
The fact that the farmer was not complying with official standards was not, by itself, enough to establish a nuisance was being caused, a principle of law that had been long established.
Although several witnesses in court testified to the presence of manure near the property, none of them stated that it was a nuisance.
A report from a ‘huissier’ stated that the manure spread out along the road and down the embankment but was thereafter inconclusive about the impact on the house. He found numerous dead flies on the floor of a room in the house, but with no link to manure.
The farmer also produced evidence from witnesses that the manure was present before the complainant purchased the property, and that it had been in the same place for more than thirty years. Other witnesses stated that the manure did not emit any olfactory nuisance.
A letter produced in court from the complainant to the local public health department in 2009 also proved that they were aware of the presence of the manure prior to concluding the purchase of the property some months later.
The court concluded that the complainant had not proved that an abnormal neighbour nuisance was being caused and dismissed their demand.
In a letter to a local consumers association, written by the landlord of other land farmed by the farmer, and produced in court, the landlord stated: "Life in the countryside has advantages and disadvantages: the roosters sing early and stables give off bad smells. Some have the wisdom to live with it."
*Our article Farm Tenancies in France explains the law around French farm tenancies.