After six years of legal battle, the Supreme Court have ruled that Tate Modern are liable in ‘nuisance’ caused to the residents of the luxurious flats, Neo Bankside. Owners of four apartments at Neo Bankside which was completed in 2012, began legal action against Tate in 2017 after the museum’s expansion at the Blavatnik Building opened to the public in June 2016.

The owners alleged that their privacy was being invaded as visitors overlooked into their flats from the public viewing gallery at the top floor of the museum’s extension. The owners who subsequently applied for an injunction lost their cases in the High Court in 2019 and again in 2020 at the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal suggested that the owners take steps to prevent people from overlooking into their flats, including installing net curtains or privacy films on the windows.

However, in December 2021, the owners took the case to the Supreme Court which narrowly ruled 3:2 in favour of the flat owners. Lord Leggatt who gave the Supreme Court judgment concluded that the matter was “a straightforward case of nuisance”. Lord Leggatt also stated that living in such conditions would feel like “being on display in a zoo”, and that inviting members of the public to look out from a viewing gallery is a very “particular and exceptional use of land”, which cannot be argued as “necessary or ordinary” in the case of operating an art museum. The judgment does not contain a remedy, and the High Court will decide whether to order an injunction or other forms of compensation.

The decision in this case is significant, as it is the first time that English law has recognised that a visual intrusion from neighbouring land can constitute private nuisance. This case may cause similar property owners to bring claims where they feel that they are being overlooked and it may influence commercial property developers to select designs that lower the risk of overlooking or visually intruding into a neighbour’s building.  However, it is worth noting that the Supreme Court has emphasised that the new law will only be applied rarely, and only in exceptional circumstances.

Whether you are a commercial property developer or a property owner, at Ellisons, we can offer advice which will enable you to avoid or deal with the issues as detailed above. Please do not hesitate to contact one of our property experts who would be happy to assist.