15 February 2023 by Jodie duffy

Japanese Knotweed – if in doubt, state ‘not known’

“Highly invasive”, “destructive”, “pest” and “nemesis” are all words in the public domain used to describe Japanese Knotweed.

How can a weed attract so much bad press when this non-native plant was initially brought to the UK for ornamental purposes?

The truth is that Japanese Knotweed is a weed which dies back in the winter but flourishes in the summer, arising from underground to as high as 7ft. In some instances, they can grow to 9.8ft!

It’s an annual fast-growing plant which creates stems that renew each year from the underground stems (rhizomes), creating an endless regeneration of the plant which re-surfaces every year, seemingly stronger than ever and likely to cause damage.

To defeat Japanese Knotweed, you’ll need a professional who’s skilled at controlling the weed, ensuring eradication, and then disposing of the ‘controlled plant waste’ under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 at a licensed landfill site.

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 114 (2), it is against the law to allow Japanese Knotweed to spread in the wild.

You can also face penalties and prosecution for allowing it to spread onto your neighbour’s property or anyone else’s property from your land. Community protection notices (CPN) have been issued under the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014, requiring neighbours to act or face fines if they do not rectify the situation.

The property market has seen Japanese Knotweed integrated into the standard enquiries now raised as part of the process via the property information form. In section 7.8 of this form, sellers are asked if the property is affected by Japanese Knotweed. This can pose a challenging task, especially in winter when the plant dies, since the sellers are relying on visible signs of the plant being in existence.

On the other hand, buyers will want to ensure that, if Japanese Knotweed exists on the property, there is a management plan put in place by a professional company and backed by a guarantee. If a lender is providing funding, buyers must ensure their lender is happy to with these arrangements.

In a recent case, a buyer successfully claimed £200,000 in damages, where the seller’s answer on the property information form confirmed there was no Japanese Knotweed present at the property. The seller had not seen any Japanese Knotweed and, when he initially purchased, his surveyor did not identify any findings of the plant either. It came to light that the property was blighted by Japanese Knotweed.

It was found that the seller could have ticked ‘not known’ but, instead, he chose to ‘positively assert’ there was no Japanese Knotweed present when he ticked ‘no’ on the property information form.

In light of this recent decision, our top tips are as follows:-

  • If you answer ‘no’ on the property information form, you must be certain that the property has no Japanese Knotweed which would entail having ‘no rhizome beneath the ground and within three meters of the boundary.’
  • A cursory glance around the garden from someone who’s not trained is not sufficient!
  • If you are not sure, and there’s any doubt, then you should answer ‘not known’.
  • If you’re buying a property, make sure that you ask your surveyor to check the property for evidence of this.
  • You should also carry out your own inspection – there are apps available which can identify shrubs, plants and leaves from your mobile camera.
  • If you need an expert to help you manage the plant, then ensure they are a specialist who can offer an insurance backed guarantee/warranty.

If you’re selling or buying a property, please do get in touch with Jodie Duffy or another member of our specialist Residential Real Estate team.

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