Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill Tuesday that limits nuisance lawsuits filed against businesses or industries by their neighbors.
The bill defines the circumstances in which a nuisance lawsuit can be filed by a property owner against an existing business that is not violating state laws and regulations.
The law protects South Carolina companies from being found a public or private nuisance if they are following all pertinent laws, licensing regulations, and local ordinances.
“What we’re doing is making the common law, which, of course, has existed for centuries, even more clear that as long as a business is following all the rules and has all the permits, all the documentation that it needs to have, if someone moves to that plant or that facility, they can’t start complaining,” McMaster said.
The bill is expected to encourage economic growth, attract further investment in South Carolina’s communities, and create more jobs.
“This is the greatest place in the whole country to do business and we want people to expand, to invest, and to be happy in South Carolina,” McMaster said. “I think that we always want to convey to people who are looking to invest millions, even billions of dollars, is that they know what they’re getting when they come to South Carolina. They’re not going to be vexed with unnecessary complaints, unnecessary lawsuits.”
“Through the legislative process we were able to address the needs of business and industry and still protect the individual property owners’ rights,” said Rep. Mike Forrester, R- Spartanburg, who sponsored the bill. “The bill will enhance our economic opportunities in the future by providing assurance to companies that their investments are protected.”
Opponents argue decades of common law already protects businesses. Conservation Voters of South Carolina executive director John Tynan said the bill hurts the ability of property owners to defend themselves from egregious industrial issues.
“Shutting citizens out of their rights to participate in conversations about how to make sure they maintain their property values, quality of life and the health of their communities is just a big problem,” he said.
The bill had been stuck in the Senate since last year, but opponents earlier this month agreed to a compromise which ended the stalemate. The final version clarified the protections would not apply to manufacturers who expand or significantly alter their operations to cause problems for neighbors.
Governor McMaster said property owners still have the right to file lawsuits.
“Of course, anyone’s free to bring a lawsuit,” he said. “What this does, is makes it clear what the rules are and the standards are in most situations for that lawsuit to continue on. It’s been clear that you cannot move to what you consider to be a nuisance and then complain about it. It does nothing to diminish anyone’s property rights.”
Several leaders of the state’s business community attended the bill signing Tuesday.
“On behalf of South Carolina manufacturers and their thousands of South Carolina associates, we are grateful to the legislature and Governor McMaster for their leadership in making H. 3653 law,” said Sara Hazzard, President and CEO of the South Carolina Manufacturers Alliance. “As South Carolina’s population continues to grow and neighborhoods continue to expand closer and closer to existing manufacturing facilities’ footprints, it is important to provide certainty to those manufacturers so that they can continue to invest, operate, and provide jobs.”