Sellers beware: Japanese knotweed can seriously affect the saleability of your house
“Japanese knotweed was introduced into the UK in the 19th century as an ornamental plant, but because it was imported from Japan its growth was not kept in check by the animals and diseases that affect shrubs and flowers that originate in the UK. Because of this, significant areas of land have become overrun with the plant, which – due to the way it grows and takes hold – has caused serious damage to property, including breaking through concrete foundations and blocking drains and pipes.”
“Getting rid of the plant is very difficult because of its invasive root system. It requires specialist treatment, usually over a prolonged period. It is not something you should try to tackle yourself, not least because the roots of the plant and any surrounding soil are classified as controlled waste which has to be disposed of at a designated landfill site”.
How can I tell if my property is affected by Japanese knotweed?
Initially, the plant looks a bit like asparagus, but possibly with a purple tinge to it. As it starts to grow it sprouts knots from which red and green leaves emerge. Once established, the leaves turn bright green and then, towards the end of the year, white flowers appear which eventually die off, leaving a brownish dead-looking plant behind. Japanese knotweed that has really taken hold can grow as high as three metres. More information on how to recognise the plant can be found from a quick internet search.
If a prospective buyer of your property has a valuation carried out, or instructs a surveyor, it is highly likely that any growth of the plant will be spotted. You will also be under an obligation to disclose the existence of the plant on your property if you know it exists.
If you choose a solicitor with local knowledge of the area where your property is located, they may also be able to help determine whether there is a possibility of the plant being present. They may, for example, have dealt with sales of other properties in your street and know of a problem.
What should I do if I think I have spotted the plant?
Ridding your property of Japanese knotweed is not easy. It is possible for it to be treated with chemicals, but only by someone authorised to do so because of the risk of spreading the plant, harming animals and polluting water sources. It can also be dug up and buried or put into a mound somewhere else on your property and carefully controlled. You need to take advice from a company that specialises in the destruction and removal of the plant.
Will the existence of the plant affect my ability to sell?
If you are in the process of selling your house, or are perhaps thinking about putting it on the market, you should speak to your solicitor for advice on the likely impact on a prospective sale and the preferred approach of most mortgage lenders as to how the problem ought to be dealt with. Mortgage companies will generally want details of active management plans before deciding whether to lend on the property.
What could happen if I spread the plant or it causes my neighbours problems?
It is an offence to plant or otherwise cause Japanese knotweed to grow in the wild, so if you try to remove it yourself – and in the process of doing so cause it to spread – you could be prosecuted.
If the plant spreads onto your neighbour’s land and causes damage, you could be ordered to pay them compensation. This was confirmed in a recent case brought against Network Rail where the court ordered the company to pay two men, whose land had been affected by Japanese knotweed growing on the railway company’s land, compensation to reflect the decrease in value to the men’s property caused by the presence of the plant and the damage it had caused, as well as the costs of treating the problem. The pay out in that case was reported to be just short of £30,000, with the men being given permission to go back to the court to ask for more in the event Network Rail failed to get rid of the plant.
Property adjoining railways has a high incidence of the plant because it used to be planted to help stabilise railway embankments.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.