Don’t get yourself in a knot! – Japanese Knotweed – what you need to know

What is it?

We are entering the prime period of the year for buying and selling homes. Everything looks good when it's bathed in sunshine! However, spring also sees the awakening of an unwelcome beast from hibernation – the much-feared Japanese Knotweed begins to bud, causing havoc for property owners all across the UK.

Japanese Knotweed is very tricky to spot and can go unnoticed for months, especially during Winter when it simply dies off on the surface. There are several stages of growth throughout the year to look out for, from roots and buds to leaves and flowers.

Why is it a problem?

Japanese Knotweed can cause serious structural damage to buildings, plants, patios and pipes, not to mention the financial cost of eradicating this intrusive plant. In a sale and purchase scenario, there are also legal consequences for property owners and prospective buyers in the UK.

What are the implications?

In the UK, it is ultimately the property owner's responsibility to make sure that Japanese Knotweed does not spread onto neighboring land. This may prove particularly difficult for absent overseas investment property owners. On that basis, it is important that appropriate property management arrangements are put in place to ensure that regular property checks are carried out to preserve the valuable investment and if necessary nip the problem in the bud!

Whilst it is not an offence to have Japanese Knotweed on your property, it is an offence to plant it.

Japanese Knotweed is also classed as 'controlled waste' so it must be disposed safely at a designated and licensed landfill site. Failure to do so may result in a two year prison sentence or a significant fine. Furthermore, local authorities and the police have power to serve a community protection notice on individuals or corporate owners and require them to prevent or control the spread of Japanese Knotweed. Non-compliance with such order may also lead to a hefty fine.

What does it mean for property owners and prospective buyers?

Given the serious consequences of dealing with Japanese Knotweed, it is extremely important for conveyancers to be vigilant and make appropriate pre-contract property enquiries in conjunction with the Buyer's survey report.

In fact this very problem has come up on a recent property deal which prompted us to write this article.

In this case we acted for a lender charging a new build property in London being purchased by an international property investor. The bank's surveyor had local knowledge of the site and its previous ongoing issues with Japanese Knotweed. We had to make a number of enquiries of the borrower's lawyers, developers lawyers and, ultimately, the developers directly to ensure that remedial work had been undertaken and that adequate guarantees are in place.

Unfortunately, the Borrower's solicitor had not raised any enquiries about this before exchanging contracts and getting information out of the developer proved difficult. The failure by the borrower's solicitor to raise enquiries at the right time caused some panic for the Borrower and delayed completion whilst details of the remedial works and a copy of the guarantee were sourced. Law: Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Section 14, Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, Section 34 and Anti-social Behavior, Crime and Policing Act 2014

The Law:

Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981, Section 14, Environmental Protection Act (EPA) 1990, Section 34 and Anti-social Behavior, Crime and Policing Act 2014

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