What is Japanese knotweed?
Japanese knotweed is a non-native invasive plant, which has incredibly strong root systems. It lies dormant in winter months but then grows aggressively from May to October. It has distinctive red stems and flat green leaves.
It can cause damage to buildings and is strong enough to break through concrete. Crucially, if not treated correctly or thoroughly, it will grow back. Leaving just one stem (or rhizome) means it can grow back and continue to blight properties. In the most extreme cases, Japanese knotweed can lead to buildings being condemned.
Why is Japanese knotweed a problem?
In addition to the risk of physical damage to your property, it can also affect your ability to sell your home or obtain a mortgage. Some lenders refuse to finance against a property affected by Japanese knotweed. Others place restrictions on the mortgage. It can have an effect on the value of your property too, as the treatment time is often lengthy over a number of years and ideally requires insurance to support it.
What are a landowners obligations?
If a landowner fails to treat Japanese knotweed on their property and it either transfers to another property or its proliferation has a knock-on effect, they can be liable to legal action.
Firstly, those affected can seek an injunction to force the landowner to take action to remove the knotweed. This can include treatment costs, damages for the impact on the value of affected properties and further damages for any impact on the enjoyment of those properties. Considering the damage that knotweed can do – above and below ground – it is not inconceivable that damages could run into the hundreds of thousands.
In addition to an injunction, more recently introduced powers provide an another opportunity for redress for affected land owners. The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 is used to protect against any pattern of behaviour which has a detrimental effect on quality of life. This can – and is – used to apply to knotweed.
Local councils and the police can issue a Community Protection Notice against the offending party – following written warnings about the anti-social behaviour. Failure to comply with such a notice, without reasonable excuse, is a criminal offence which could result in a fine or prosecution.
What can you do?
If you have Japanese knotweed on your property, you need specialist treatment and legal advice straight away.
Do not touch it. You must seek specialist advice. Simply digging it out will not get rid of Japanese knotweed and more importantly, digging it out could be a criminal offence. As it is so invasive, Japanese knotweed is controlled waste and legislation exists to control how it is disposed of. You cannot simply put it in your recycling bin.
Isolate the area - it takes only one rhizome to stick to the bottom of a welly or garden tool for it to spread. All tools and equipment used in the area affected should be thoroughly cleaned immediately.
You should seek specialist advice immediately from companies who are accredited in the treatment and disposal of Japanese knotweed.
Japanese knotweed is not just a weed or irritant for a keen gardener. The presence and spread of Japanese knotweed can be a legal nuisance and a party may have acted negligently in not treating it at all or not treating it correctly. This is in addition to the detrimental effect on the value of your property and the risk of physical damage. It can hinder large scale developments or impede domestic planning permission.
More and more clients are coming to us with concerns about Japanese knotweed, whether it is on their own property or worried about its presence on neighbouring property. If you have knotweed on your land, you need to act fast, as if it spreads onto other people’s property, you could be liable for a claim in nuisance. You risk not only having to meet the cost of treatment but also paying compensation for other losses. Equally, if your property neighbours another plot with knotweed, you may be able to take action to force the owner to deal with it to limit the risk to you.
We recommend that property owners take a rounded approach to dealing this. You need a strong combination of legal, surveyor and treatment advice. Each needs to be specialists. The dispute resolution team at Stephensons offer specialist advice on Japanese knotweed and coordinate the other experts needed to make your claim as easy as possible.
Contact our team today to discuss your options on 01616 966 229.