Since 2013, a seller is required to state whether Japanese knotweed is present on their property. Derek Inkpin from local solicitors Axiom DWFM looks at the legal implications of this invasive weed
Imagine you are in the process of buying a house, and on receiving a form from your solicitor entitled ‘Property Information Form’, which features in all residential conveyancing transactions, you read that Japanese knotweed has previously been found at the property but has been treated by a specialist firm with a guarantee. Do you cancel your purchase or still proceed, not least because you really like the house?
Everybody has heard about this pernicious weed, but it seems as if it is a distant menace. It may be the stuff of legal and financial nightmares, but if it has been treated, is that enough? Well, it has the potential to damage man-made and natural structures and has been estimated to be present in every 10 square kilometres of the British Isles.
Court cases involving knotweed are likely to increase as a result of a recent Court of Appeal decision in Davies vs Bridgend Council, which is regarded as a landmark ruling. These cases, however, have had a difficult recent history when in 2018 the Court of Appeal decided in Williams vs Network Rail Infrastructure (NRI) that Mr Williams could succeed in his appeal but not on the grounds of NRl’s land causing a private nuisance through encroaching knotweed to Mr Williams’ land. He succeeded because of the loss of what is called the amenity value and use of his property.
It is clear that once warned of the presence of knotweed, a landowner is under a duty to treat it and will be liable if there is a history of failure to do so. That will give rise to a court claim which in the Williams and Davies cases included a right to claim for the loss in value of their respective properties. In the Davies case, the significance of what was decided was that a landowner can recover compensation for the stigma attached to his house, even after successful treatment by a specialist contractor with a guarantee in place.
Thus, there is still the possibility of a value reduction of the property after treatment and buyers walking away from the purchase or offering less for the property. It might prevent mortgage lenders from lending on a property or prevent homeowners from carrying out improvements to landscaping or building works which would otherwise increase the value of their property.
As a seller, never be tempted in the form you complete to answer ‘no’ to the questions about knotweed which is sent to the buyer. Failure to report or deliberately conceal knotweed could lead to the seller being sued for misrepresentation and liable for compensation due to the stigma attached to their property, as well as treatment costs.
Axiom DWFM is located at 9–13 Cambridge Park, Wanstead, E11 2PU. For more information, call 020 8215 1000