Tied up in a knot!

Jo Vipond, trainee Legal Executive looks at the legal implications of properties affected by Japanese Knotweed.

Described by the Environment Agency as ‘indisputably the UK’s most aggressive destructive and invasive plant’ it was only a matter of time before this plant began affecting conveyancing transactions.

Jo comments: this is becoming such a problem, that the seller must now confirm in replies to enquiries whether their property is affected by Japanese Knotweed.

What is Japanese Knotweed?

Japanese knotweed is a strong, clump-forming perennial with bamboo-like stems of over 2m which regrow each year. It produces leaves of up to 14cm in length and 15cm-tassels of flowers in late summer and early autumn. The plant was brought here from Japan in the mid-nineteenth century for its ornamental qualities.

Why is it dangerous?

It can grow more than 9ft in just ten weeks, and easily spreads from neighbouring homes, wasteland, waterways, railway lines or footpaths.

Its extensive deep roots can penetrate roads, concrete, damage foundations threatening the property’s structure and also damage drains. The plant is resilient to cutting and can re-sprout quickly and vigorously from the root.

In one of the worst cases a couple saw the value of their four-bedroom house in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire virtually drop from £305,000 to £50,000 due to the damage caused. The weed had spread along the brick walls, forcing its way through flooring and had sprouted over skirting boards. It was on the brink of collapsing.

The Government estimates it would take £1.5 billion to clear the current infestation of Japanese knotweed in the UK.

Treatment and disposal

A common weed killer is of no use!

Japanese Knotweed can be treated in various ways including chemical treatment, root barrier systems, excavation and removal.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, Japanese Knotweed is considered to be ‘controlled waste’ and is subject to more stringent control of disposal.

Jo comments: it was reported that the estimated cost of removing and disposing of Japanese knotweed at the Olympic site in East London was £70 million.

Japanese Knotweed and the law

Landowners are not legally obliged to remove Japanese knotweed, unless it is causing a nuisance to neighbouring property. However, it is an offence to plant, or cause Japanese knotweed to grow, in the wild.

Jo comments: my client’s neighbour brought a nuisance claim, claiming my client allowed the Japanese knotweed growing on his property to encroach on their property, causing damage. Japanese Knotweed was also growing on the land at the rear of the property. The expert could not determine the original source. However, my client was in the process of selling the property and so settled the claim and paid the neighbour £8,000 for the removal of the Japanese Knotweed from both properties and the installation of a root barrier system to prevent the spread from the land at the rear.

Victoria Khandker in our property litigation department can advise you on nuisance claims.

Japanese Knotweed and conveyancing

  • Duty on Seller

The seller must confirm in standard replies to enquiries (the Property Information Form) whether their property is affected by Japanese knotweed:

Japanese knotweed

Note: Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that can cause damage to property. It can take several years to eradicate.

7.8 Is the property affected by Japanese knotweed? If Yes, please state whether there is a Japanese knotweed management plan in place and supply a copy.

Jo comments: there is also a duty on the purchaser’s solicitor to ensure this question is completed by the seller.

  • Lenders

Japanese knotweed must be reported to the Lender immediately.

Small building societies such as Skipton and Leeds will decline mortgage applications on properties where Japanese knotweed is present. Others such as Barclays Bank, which also owns the Woolwich, and Santander, will decline them unless work is undertaken to remove it. While those such as Northern Rock, Clydesdale and Nationwide will consider it with guarantees or an indemnity in place, and guidance from a surveyor.

In extreme circumstances, Lenders may refuse a loan for a property which is at risk and Japanese knotweed is growing next door.

Jo Comments: My client’s purchaser managed to obtain a mortgage providing the Japanese Knotweed was removed and backed up with a ten year guarantee.

If you are looking to sell or purchase property which is affected by Japanese Knotweed, Jo Vipond can advise you on your options.

So be sure to keep a look out for this deadly plant or you too could be tied up in a knot!

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