As the weather begins to warm up, so too does the property market, with springtime traditionally the period when buyers and sellers emerge from their winter hibernation.
But the improving climate brings dangers of a horticultural kind – the unwelcome appearance of highly invasive and aggressive Japanese knotweed.
This pernicious plant – Fallopia japonica – lies dormant in winter but now its reddish-pink buds are starting to sprout. Once summer arrives it can grow a foot a week and start strangling all other plant life in the garden.
Even more seriously, it can wreak havoc with your chances of selling or buying a home – with some lenders refusing to give mortgages due to the weed’s destructive ways. Meanwhile, homeowners may discover the value of their property has been reduced by as much as 50%. This is because its extensive roots can penetrate deep into the ground, damaging house foundations, drainage systems and walls.
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. Now a landmark court ruling has found that a landowner is responsible if they do not prevent the plant from spreading 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. 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.
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.
How can Gotelee help?
Whether you are buying or selling a house, or if your business owns land, you need to fully understand the impact the plant can have.
If you can see Japanese knotweed growing on your property, it’s important you take steps to eradicate it. If it’s growing on neighbouring properties, speak with your neighbours and if they don’t tackle the problem, it’s worth considering action.
If you are successful with a nuisance claim, you can push for neighbours to undertake a five-year eradication programme and ask for a guarantee from the specialist company involved, as well as seeking compensation if there is evidence it has travelled through your boundaries.
If your business is being threatened with legal action, you need to understand your responsibilities and work out the best course of action.
Gotelee’s Property Disputes expert Holly Sadler said: “Taking action to protect what is probably your biggest asset is a simple but sensible option, whether you’re buying, selling or staying put.
“These days, when you sell a property, you will be asked whether Japanese knotweed has been found on the property and the reply will be included in the comprehensive pack of buyer’s information that lawyers compile during the conveyancing process.”
Whether you are a buyer, seller, or represent a business, our expert team of lawyers, based in Ipswich, Hadleigh, Felixstowe, Woodbridge and Melton, can help. To find out more, contact Holly Sadler on 01473 298193 or email [email protected]