Has knotweed come back to strangle me?

Upon selling a property, can people be fined for Japanese Knotweed that they weren't aware they had in the garden?

Question: I've heard about a woman who sold her house, only for the new owner to find Japanese Knotweed in the garden. It was news to her but he still demanded compensation. Can this happen?

Answer: I first wrote about Japanese Knotweed when a reader asked if it could affect a mortgage application. It was introduced to Britain from Japan in 1825 as an ornamental plant. However, it proved very invasive and can cause damage to property including drains, walls, paths and driveways.

When selling a property you have to fill in a property information form in which there is a section on Japanese Knotweed. If the property is affected by this plant you must disclose the fact, and also say whether there is a management plan in place to deal with it. If this woman knew Japanese Knotweed was in her garden but failed to disclose this, the buyer could have a claim against her. Of course, the woman may not have known it was there, especially as the plant dies right back in winter. It soon shoots back up again to more than two metres in early summer.

If you have Japanese Knotweed but don’t control it, it can spread to your neighbours’ property and they can hold you liable for any damage it causes. So the woman should check whether she has a claim against her former neighbours. 

If the new owner had a survey carried out when he bought the property he should consider the survey report to see if it covered Japanese Knotweed. If it did and  the surveyor missed it, then the surveyor may be liable for loss suffered by the new owner.

What's your problem?
If you have a question for Fiona McNulty, please email legalsolutions@standard.co.uk or write to Legal Solutions, Homes & Property, London Evening Standard, 2 Derry Street, W8 5EE. We regret that questions cannot be answered individually but we will try to feature them here. Fiona McNulty is a partner in the residential property, farms and estates team at Withy King LLP (www.withyking.co.uk).

These answers can only be a very brief commentary on the issues raised and should not be relied on as legal advice. No liability is accepted for such reliance. If you have similar issues, you should obtain advice from a solicitor. 

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