Judicial setback for the Tate Modern

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The owners of four luxury apartments overlooking the Tate Modern museum in London have won a privacy lawsuit over the use of the gallery’s viewing platform.

In fact, the Neo Bankside residents filed a lawsuit against the « hundreds of thousands of visitors » who look into their homes.

In February 2020, the Court of Appeal dismissed their claim, telling them they had to « lower their solar blinds. » But the British Supreme Court overturned that decision Wednesday, after a hearing in December 2021.

The residents had sought an injunction requiring the gallery to prevent members of the public from viewing their apartments by « isolating » parts of the platform or « installing screens. » The residents, who purchased their apartments in 2013 and 2014, lost their case in the High Court and Court of Appeal and so took the case to the UK’s highest court.

In his ruling, Lord Leggatt said the viewing gallery, which is currently closed, made residents feel as if they were « on display in a zoo. » He added that it was « not difficult to imagine how oppressive living in such circumstances would be for any ordinary person. »

The court ruled that the creation of the viewing platform was not a « normal » use of the museum’s grounds and therefore there was a right of complaint.

« Inviting members of the public to view from an observation deck is clearly a very special and exceptional use of the grounds, » the judge said.

This momentous victory for the owners of the multi-million pound glass box apartments has already sparked a wide-ranging debate among London’s construction lawyers, who are questioning the outcome of the case.

Recall that the nuisance trend was set in 2014 by the landmark case of Coventry v. Lawrence, when a couple moved into a house next to a racetrack, only to find that living with the constant noise of roaring motorcycles was not what they had in mind. Amazingly, the new neighbors won damages and an injunction against the racetrack, which had been in existence since 1975.

This case shows that looking into someone’s home can cause a legally intolerable nuisance, even in a densely populated city.

The key question, as Lord Leggatt explains in this case, is what is the ordinary and normal use of Tate’s land.

And the majority of the Court said that the Tate observation deck created a « very special and exceptional situation » that crossed the line because of its impact. So the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the property owners by a three to two vote.

The case will now go back to the High Court to determine a solution for the apartment owners.

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