LONDON (AP) — The U.K. Supreme Court says people who live in glass houses also have a right to privacy.
The court ruled on Wednesday that a viewing platform at London’s Tate Modern art gallery made residents of luxury glass-walled apartments next door feel like animals in a zoo and prevented the “ordinary use and enjoyment” of their homes.
The judges overturned earlier rulings by lower courts that sided with the Tate Modern in the long-running privacy battle between the gallery – one of London’s biggest tourist attractions – and residents of four apartments in the neighboring Neo Bankside complex.
Judge George Leggatt said the platform was visited by hundreds of thousands of people a year, who “frequently took photos of apartment interiors and sometimes posted them on social media”.
“It’s not hard to imagine how oppressive living in such circumstances would be for any ordinary person – much like being on display in a zoo,” he wrote in the court’s majority decision.
‘There is no doubt that the viewing and photography which takes place from the Tate building causes substantial interference with the ordinary use and enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ properties.’
The court ruled that the gallery had violated “the common law of private nuisances”. Three justices supported the majority decision and two dissented.
The Tate Modern opened in 2000 in a former power station on the south bank of the Thames. He helped transform the surrounding Bankside neighborhood from a riverside backwater into an arts and nightlife hub dotted with luxury apartment towers.
The observation deck – which has been closed since the coronavirus pandemic – is part of a pyramid-shaped extension that opened in 2016 to the gallery, which sees more than 5 million visitors a year. Neo Bankside was completed a few years earlier.
Residents’ lawyers argued that the 10th-floor platform, which attracted more than half a million gallery visitors a year, was a “relentless” invasion of residents’ privacy. They said visitors to the gallery had subjected the apartments to “intense visual scrutiny”, with some using binoculars and zoom lenses to see better.
The gallery said residents could solve the problem by pulling down their blinds or putting up curtains – and the High Court and Court of Appeal judges agreed.
But the Supreme Court found the viewing platform to be an “abnormal” use of Tate Modern land, and the beleaguered residents were right.
“The plaintiffs cannot be forced to live behind sheers or with their blinds drawn all day to protect themselves from the consequences of trespass caused by the Tate’s abnormal use of its land,” the judges said.
The decision surprised many legal experts.
“Previous court rulings have suggested that if you are neglected by others, it is simply bad luck and you have no legal recourse,” said Richard Cressall, a partner at Gordons law firm. “The Supreme Court decided to put a cap on that.”
Claire Lamkin, real estate lawyer at Kingsley Napley, said that although the judges “pointed out the rare circumstances” of the case, “it will undoubtedly precipitate a wave of copycat cases where people believe that a real estate development near them is very intrusive”.
The residents had asked for the gallery to protect their apartments from view or to pay damages. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the High Court to decide on the appropriate remedy.
Natasha Rees, an attorney for the five residents who launched the claim in 2018, said her clients “look forward to working with the Tate as valued neighbors to find a workable solution that protects all of their interests.”
The Tate Modern said in a statement that “as the matter is ongoing, we cannot comment further.”