Private Client
By Conal McGarrity
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Buyer Beware – a pitfall for property owners following Japanese knotweed judgment

Japanese Knotweed is an invasive plant which is notoriously fast growing and can destroy the foundations and structure of a property, it is also very difficult and expensive to remove. The Northern Ireland Assembly spend £4.75 million on costs relating to Japanese knotweed each year. The presence of the plant on or near a property can significantly devalue the property, as well as making the property more difficult to mortgage and insure.

The BBC reported that a home in North Belfast had been devalued by 40% due to the presence of Japanese knotweed. Chris Kenton, environmental spokesperson for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors highlighted the attitude of mortgage lenders regarding the presence of the plant, he claimed ‘a number of lenders have identified Japanese knotweed as a “decline”, so if a valuer identifies it on a property or even a neighbouring property, that will cause the mortgage to be declined’.

A Recent Court of Appeal decision in England in the case of Williams v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd could have serious repercussions for landowners who fail to take action to mitigate the risks of knotweed if they knew or ought to have known of the presence of the plant on their property. Network Rail were ordered to pay damages to two claimants as they failed to remove Japanese knotweed from their property, allowing it to continue to grow and invade the claimant’s properties.

Upholding the decision of a Cardiff County Court Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton stated that the plant affects ‘the owner’s ability to use and enjoy the land. They are a classic example of an amenity value of the land’.

It is clear from this Judgment that public bodies, contractors or property owners who fail to act in removing knotweed from their properties will be negligent and liable for any third-party damage caused from the growth of the plant.

Further, sellers of property have a duty to inform buyers about the presence of Japanese knotweed on a property, if this duty is breached it can lead to the termination of a contract between the parties and potentially an order for damages to be paid to the purchasing party.

If you are aware of the presence of Japanese knotweed on a neighbour’s land and are worried about the implications for your property you should first, ask your neighbour that it be removed promptly. If this is not successful you should seek legal advice, our expert conveyancing solicitors will help protect your property.

If the plant has already invaded your property from a neighbouring property and caused damage you should seek legal advice promptly and our solicitors can help you make a claim for damages.

The Court of Appeals Judgment is a positive one in that it will raise awareness about the destructive nature of Japanese knotweed and in turn encourage property owners to eradicate the plant.

For those affected by the negligence of neighbouring property owners in their failure to stop the spread of the plant this Judgment opens the door to making a claim for damages against the negligent party.

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