Business Law 101 / Public Nuisances

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

Is it a crime to be annoying? It can be. Florida Statute 823 states that “All nuisances that tend to annoy the community, injure the health of the citizens in general, or corrupt the public morals are misdemeanors of the second degree”. The statute is vague but has been upheld by the courts.  It has been used to shut down houses of prostitution, to address smells and noises coming from businesses, dumping, crack houses, and more.  This includes if a building, tent, or any structure is erected or maintained for illegal purposes, such as gambling, prostitution, or criminal gang-related activities. It also includes business that sell obscene materials and requires them to ensure that minors may not see the material.

Other activities that affect the public’s peace can also fall under the criminal statutes.  Creating a bonfire with 165 feet of a person’s house is a second-degree misdemeanor as it may put the safety of the house at risk.   Importing any farm or domestic animal that has a contagious or infectious disease is a third-degree felony, as it could put at risk the entire farming industry.  Similarly, if an animal dies of such a disease, they must be buried more than two feet underground or it is a second-degree misdemeanor.

One of the more interesting aspects of this law concerns how doors are operated.  Every door to a public building MUST open outwards or it is a third-degree felony.  This allows the occupants an easier escape route in the event of a fire.

One of the portions of the public nuisance law that many of us are familiar with regards discarded appliances, primarily refrigerators.  Many years ago, people would throw away their old refrigerators and leave them on the side of the road.  Kids found these to be attractive places to hide in.  Unfortunately, some appliances are designed to be airtight and many children, once inside could not get out and suffocated.  Today, under the public nuisance law, when an appliance is discarded, the doors must be removed. Failure to remove the doors is a second-degree misdemeanor and if a child is injured or dies because the doors were not removed, the penalty becomes a third-degree felony.

Keeping a house that is used for illegal drug use is a third-degree felony.

Another aspect to this law that has a major impact in the Florida Keys is the derelict vessel provision. Any vessel that is abandoned or stored in a wrecked, junked, or substantially dismantled condition upon any public waters of this state or at a port in this state without consent, or docked, grounded, or beached on another person’s property without their consent is a violation. Law enforcement has the right to remove these vessels and charge the owners for the removal.  A violation of this statute by the boat owner is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Most of us have seen signs in elevators stating smoking is not allowed. In fact, it is a second-degree misdemeanor to smoke in an elevator.

Probably the strangest aspect of the public nuisance statute is the end.  After stating what a public nuisance is, the law turns to what is not a public nuisance.  Specifically, farming is not to be deemed a public nuisance if the farm has been in operating or more than 1 year and conforms to generally accepted agricultural and management practices. The exception is if there is untreated or improperly treated human waste, garbage, dead animals, dangerous waste materials, the presence of improperly built or improperly maintained septic tanks, and bathrooms, diseased animals which are dangerous to human health, and the presence of unsanitary places where animals are slaughtered.

The final exception is that sport shooting ranges are not deemed public nuisances so long as they are in compliance with any noise control laws or local ordinances.

Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law, and labor law at St. Leo University.  He is the author of five law books available through Absolutely Amazing E-Books and the host of “Basics Of The Law”, a weekly YouTube channel. This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice.  If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.