The Tate Modern is one of London’s great tourism success stories attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. And whilst visitors enjoy its world-famous artworks, the addition of a viewing gallery in 2016 meant they could also gaze into the homes of its near neighbours.
After a protracted court battle, the Supreme Court has ruled that it does indeed invade their privacy and that a glass-walled flat in central London should not necessarily come “at the price of privacy,” says Chris Macartney Partner in the Landlord & Tenant team.
Four owners of flats in the Neo Bankside development have been fighting a long legal battle with the Tate Modern following the construction by the Tate of an extension to the gallery which included a 360-degree viewing gallery in 2016 with views across the City. That gallery, just 34 metres away from the prime development, allowed visitors to see into their glass-front homes, often posting pictures on social media.
The flat owners, saying they were “more or less constantly watched”, turned to the high court in 2019 seeking to have the Tate Modern restrict visitors to its viewing platform. They were unsuccessful, with the then director of the Tate, Sir Nicholas Serota, suggesting they could instal net curtains or lower their blinds. An appeal in 2020 was also rejected.
The Supreme Court in a majority decision came to a different conclusion, saying that the flat owners faced a “constant visual intrusion” that interfered with their “ordinary use and enjoyment” of the flats.
The judge, Lord Leggatt, said “It is not difficult to imagine how oppressive living in such circumstances would feel for any ordinary person – much like being on display in a zoo.”
The Supreme Court has returned the case to the High Court for a decision on the remedy available to the flat owners. Its decision will be watched closely.
The Supreme Court’s decision has been eagerly anticipated with suggestions that it would enshrine a tenant’s right to privacy and open the floodgates to a wave of copycat cases.
Flat owners will, however, be disappointed to hear Lord Leggatt say that this case is very specific, with the Tate’s decision to open a viewing gallery representing “a very particular and exceptional use of land”. It does not mean that disgruntled residents can bring complaints of nuisance just because neighbours can see inside a home.
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The above is accurate as at 03 February 2023. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times. The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case-by-case basis.