The plant that scares the banks – how to handle Japanese Knotweed

Advice  |   21 February 2014

There is a certain level of hysteria about Japanese Knotweed in the UK, and from its description you can see why: it has no natural predators here, it is able to grow from a shard of stem the size of a fingernail and it can root down to three metres below ground and cause heavy damage to tarmac and concrete. Because of these traits it has been regulated in the UK and must not be planted or improperly disposed of. It is important to remember, however that it is not invulnerable and can be removed effectively with the right methods.

Impact on buyers and sellers

Because of the damage knotweed can do to a property and the difficulties in eliminating it, banks have reacted harshly when it has been found on a property they are asked to lend against. In many cases they may refuse to lend entirely even when the knotweed is on a neighbour’s property, or quite far from any building.

As a seller this may mean your home is rendered nearly impossible to sell. Your options at that point are to eliminate the plant before trying again, or to negotiate an arrangement with your lender. They may be willing to lend if a plan is put in place to manage and get rid of the knotweed, or may only be willing to lend a lesser amount.

With so much at risk it may be tempting for a seller to simply not mention the plant to buyers, but that is not an option; the property information form a seller must complete for a buyer explicitly asks whether Japanese knotweed affects the property. It is imperative that you are honest in your replies or you open yourself up to the risk of a claim for misrepresentation when the buyer eventually finds the knotweed.

Neighbouring knotweed.

The only insurmountable problem with selling comes when it is spotted on a neighbours land, and it’s proximity means lenders run scared from supporting a buyer in purchasing your house. It is an uncommon and extreme example, and you may be able to approach your neighbour and agree a way to get rid of it. However if they refuse then you could be left without realistic options.

If the knotweed does enter your land, you may have a civil claim against your neighbour in nuisance as it can be argued to unlawfully interfere with your use and enjoyment of your land.

Practical removal

The ability to re-grow from almost nothing means that mowing or stripping this plant simply spreads it, unless the waste is properly disposed of. Because improper disposal can be a criminal offence the safest strategy at present is to approach a licenced company who can handle the removal properly. This avoids opening yourself up to prosecution by the Environment Agency. The most common method seems to be to use a herbicide to kill the plants over a period of one to two years, though using this method means the plant matter must be disposed of so as not to cause any other contamination form the chemicals, and this is also regulated.

The future

In 5-10 years there are plans to introduce an insect known as the Japanese Knotweed Psyllid which is currently being trialled in controlled areas to ensure it does not cause unexpected damage as the introduction of knotweed did. In the meantime, owners of affected property will have to pay up for the removal by a fully licenced and competent contractor.

As a buyer of a property look out for knotweed on the property or adjoining land and as a seller bear in mind that its presence may adversely affect the selling process

For further infomation please contact Yildiz Betez.