Court grants case to ‘spied on’ neighbors of Tate Modern gallery


London property owners have won a historic lawsuit over their use of the Tate Modern gallery’s viewing platform, from which they claim hundreds of thousands of people were able to look inside their homes.

The UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in favor of five residents of Neo Bankside, a luxury, glass-walled residential building next to the gallery, a tourist attraction.

The apartment owners first filed a lawsuit in 2017 against the Tate Modern board of directors to try to prevent a “very significant” number of people from seeing inside their apartments from the observation deck, which opened in 2016.

The lawsuit failed when, in 2019, a judge ruled that it was reasonable for the gallery to use its top floor as an observation gallery and that apartment residents exposed themselves to viewing by choosing to live in glass-walled properties.

The judge suggested that residents install lace curtains or close their shutters during the day to protect their privacy. An appeal filed by residents was rejected by an appeals court in 2020.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court, Britain’s highest court, ruled unanimously in favor of residents and found that the Tate Modern observation gallery does not constitute normal use of its land and is a nuisance to property owners.

Lawyers found the ruling significant because it concludes that a visual invasion is capable of constituting a legal nuisance. The law on the subject is intended to protect property owners against activities that unduly interfere with the use of their homes. It is applied, for example, against a neighbor who plays loud music late at night.

Greg Simms, general counsel for Addleshaw Goddard’s real estate disputes team, says the court’s decision that one property allow you to peek inside another property constitutes a legal nuisance “is likely to worry developers.”

But he added that ordinary residential and commercial properties were unlikely to be affected because most do not make “abnormal” use of their land.

The Supreme Court heard that the observation platform – which more than 500,000 people passed through in 2019 – allowed the public to take photos, use binoculars to look inside the apartments and post photos online. One resident described the “relentless encroachment” suffered by living there.

Supreme Court Justice George Leggatt said in his ruling: “It’s not hard to imagine how oppressive it would be for anyone to live in such circumstances – as if they were on display in a zoo.”

The five residents bought their luxury apartments in 2013 and 2014. Other units in the building are reportedly being offered for amounts between £775,000 (R$4.8 million) and £3.4 million (R$21.2 million).

The owners have applied for a court order requiring the gallery to close parts of the observation decks or erect screens to prevent the public from peering into their apartments. The lawsuit will now be sent back to the High Court for a judge to rule on a solution for the homeowners. The Tate Modern observation gallery has been closed since the onset of the Covid pandemic in 2020.

Lawyer Natasha Rees, who represents residents, said her clients are pleased and relieved that the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. “They now look forward to collaborating with Tate, a valued neighbor, to find a practical solution that protects everyone’s interests.”

In a statement, the Tate Modern gallery said: “We thank the Supreme Court for its careful study of this matter. As the action is still pending, we cannot comment further.”

You May Also Like

Recommended for you

Immediate Peak