Prying eyes: Neighbors win privacy feud with UK Tate gallery

LONDON (AP) – The UK’s Supreme Court says people living in glass houses have a right to privacy again.

A court ruled on Wednesday that the view point at London’s Tate Modern art gallery made residents of the glass-walled luxury apartments next door feel like animals in a zoo, and prevented the “use and enjoyment” of their homes.

Judges have overturned lower court rulings that previously upheld Tate Modern in a long-running privacy battle between the resort – one of London’s biggest tourist attractions – and residents of four flats in the Neo Bankside complex.

Judge George Leggatt said that the platform was visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year, who “often take pictures of the interior of the apartments and sometimes post them on social media.”

“It’s not hard to imagine how oppressive living in such conditions would feel for any normal person—it’s like being exposed to a zoo,” he wrote in the court’s majority decision.

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“There is no doubt that the viewing and photography that takes place from the Tate building is likely to interfere with the use and enjoyment of the buildings by the claimants.”

The court ruled that the gallery had violated the “common law tort of privacy.” Three justices upheld the majority verdict and two dissented.

Tate Modern opened in 2000 in a former power station on the south bank of the River Thames. It helped transform the surrounding area of ​​Bankside from a riverside backwater into an arts and nightlife hub full of apartment towers.

The observation deck – which has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic – is another part of the pyramid extension that was opened in 2016 at the gallery, which sees more than 5 million people a year. Neo Bankside was completed a few years ago.

Citizens’ lawyers argued the under-10 platform, which attracted more than half a million annual visitors a year, constituted an “unstoppable” invasion of citizens’ privacy. He said that gallery visitors put the houses in “extreme focus,” some using binoculars and zoom lenses to get a better look.

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Judges said residents could fix the problem by drawing blinds or installing curtains – and the High Court and Supreme Court judges agreed.

But the High Court found that the observation platform was an “unusual” use of the Tate Modern site, and residents weighed in.

“They say they cannot be forced to sit behind net curtains or with their blinds drawn all day every day to protect themselves from the consequences of the interference caused by Tate’s illegal use of his land,” the judges said.

This decision surprised many legal experts.

“Past court decisions have shown that if you are not looked after by others, it is bad luck and you have no legal remedy,” said Richard Cressall, who works with the Gordons law firm. “The Supreme Court decided to put a cap on that.”

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Claire Lamkin, a real estate lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said that while the judges “understood the unusual nature” of the case, “there is no doubt that it will increase the number of copycat cases where people feel that the construction of buildings around them is encroaching.”

Residents had asked the gallery to protect their homes from view, or pay for the damage. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court to decide the matter.

Natasha Rees, the attorney for the five residents who filed the lawsuit in 2018, said her clients “look forward to working with Tate as valued neighbors to find a solution that protects all of their needs.”

Tate Modern said in a statement that “as the matter is ongoing, we cannot comment.”


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