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Is the property market tying you in knots this spring?
As the property market approaches its springtime flurry buyers and sellers are reminded to do their homework before exchanging contracts; this includes horticultural background checks on plants such as Japanese knotweed which may have legal repercussions for them!
Japanese knotweed is a highly invasive, aggressive and destructive plant, able to grow as high as four metres in just a few months and with roots that can spread seven metres. It’s non-native with no natural predators, and is able to cause significant structural damage, growing through asphalt and other hard surfaces, often compromising building structures. Getting rid of it is a costly and time-consuming business, involving specialist waste disposal, because simply digging up the roots is not enough to kill it.
You can be fined up to £5,000 or sent to prison for two years if you allow contaminated soil or plant material from Japanese knotweed to spread into the wild, and now a landmark court ruling has found that a landowner is responsible if they do not prevent the plant from spreading from their land to adjoining properties.
The case involved a group of homeowners in South Wales, who took action against Network Rail after Japanese knotweed grew into their garden from adjoining railway sidings. The knotweed had been there for at least 50 years and had been actively treated since 2008, to ensure visibility for trains on the line. In weighing up the claims of the homeowners, the judgement considered the extent of nuisance suffered, and found in their favour, saying that the presence of Japanese knotweed was enough, without any physical damage, as it had the potential to seriously affect the market value of a property.
Many mortgage lenders restrict their lending on properties that are affected and homeowners may have difficulty in selling, or find the value of property reduced by as much as 50%.
There have been few previous rulings involving Japanese knotweed infestations, and the outcome is likely to put extra pressure on property owners to control the plant, and have a significant impact on larger land owners and those responsible for tracts of public land.
Property owners should take steps to eradicate any knotweed that they see growing on their property. If it is growing on neighbouring properties, it is best to speak with the relevant neighbour and if they don’t tackle the problem, then it’s worth considering bringing a nuisance claim against them.
As the current Law Society form includes specific questions on Japanese Knotweed, selling agents may wish to bring this up with their clients before the property comes to market. This will prevent any unwelcome surprises for the buyer once the seller has submitted its completed property information form.
For further information on any aspect of property law you can contact our local experts on: 01392 207020 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org