7 June 2019 by Melanie Carroll

Homeowner wins case against surveyor for failure to spot Japanese knotweed

A homeowner from Highgate, London, was recently successful in his claim against his chartered surveyor, who had failed to spot Japanese knotweed growing in the garden of the homeowner’s ground floor flat.  The homeowner had claimed for the cost of removal and also the reduction in his property’s value.

The case is important for property purchasers and surveyors. It not only reinforces the importance of having a survey undertaken but also highlights the need for surveyors to fulfill their duty of care by properly identifying the plant.

Japanese knotweed is native to Japan, Taiwan and China but was introduced to the UK by the Victorians in the 1800s as an ornamental plant.  It grows and spreads exponentially and can cause serious problems, including damage to property.   It is expensive to remove, provides poor wildlife habitat for native birds, insects and mammals and can affect the value of a property.  In fact, it is so invasive that it is illegal to plant or cause the species to grow (though it is not an offence to simply have it ‘on your land’).

What should purchasers do in advance of buying a property?
  • Have a full survey done on the property you are buying – it does not matter whether the property is a house or a flat (the above case related to a flat).
  • Ensure that your solicitor checks the information provided by the sellers in the property information form – there is a direct question about Japanese knotweed.
  • Check one of the Japanese knotweed distribution heat maps available online (such as www.environetuk.com), to see if the property you are buying is situated in an area of increased risk. Many areas in and around London are within the very high risk area.
  • If you are concerned that a particular plant could be knotweed, you can photograph and scan it to ident@knotweed.co.uk to receive confirmation.
  • If Japanese knotweed is present, then you should arrange a further specialised survey to advise on the potential for damage, disturbance to neighbouring property and the costs of remediation. This will more than likely impact the price you should pay for the property.

Surveys are currently strongly advisable but not a mandatory requirement when buying a property.  RICS has recently launched a consultation as to whether surveys should be a mandatory part of the house buying process – the above case provides evidence that they should.

Lessons to be learnt

Buying a property is such a significant investment so it is vital you select experts who you can trust to do the very best for you.  This applies equally to agents, brokers, lawyers and surveyors.

With a rich heritage in property law, Bolt Burdon’s residential property team are renowned for a service which is not only thorough and diligent but prompt, personable and proactive. Whether you are a surveyor worried about your obligations or a purchaser with concerns please contact Melanie Carroll on  020 7288 4798 or by email melaniecarroll@boltburdon.co.uk.

You can also contact one of our other solicitors in the residential property team here.

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