A landmark ruling by the Court of Appeal has found in favour of two homeowners who claimed that Japanese knotweed had damaged their properties.
The decision will have wide-ranging implications for homeowners who let this hazardous weed grow unchecked.
Stephen Williams and Robin Waistell, who each own the freehold of adjoining semi-detached bungalows in Maesteg, South Wales, made a claim in 2017 that Network Rail, which owns the land behind their properties, was responsible for nuisance caused by Japanese knotweed, which had grown on Network Rail’s land for several years.
Both neighbours had made a claim against Network Rail on the basis that Japanese knotweed on its land had encroached within seven metres of their properties, interfered with their quiet enjoyment of their homes and affected the value of their properties.
They were awarded damages last year, but Network Rail appealed against the decision. While agreeing that it should have prevented the knotweed from encroaching the properties, it argued that damages should not have been awarded.
Japanese knotweed, a bamboo-like plant that spreads quickly, can block drains; disrupt drain runs; grow between slabs of concrete drives; disrupt brick paving; undermine garden walls; and overwhelm poorly built outbuildings and conservatories.
It is also hard to eradicate and is considered a ‘controlled waste’ that only licensed firms can dispose of, so it is expensive to remove off site.
According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders’ policy, where Japanese knotweed is within seven metres of a habitable space, the valuation of a property can be affected.
The Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the original decision, saying that the claim was justified in respect of the encroachment of Japanese knotweed because it has “diminished the claimants’ ability to enjoy the amenity and utility of their respective properties”.
The court stated: “Japanese knotweed, and its roots and rhizomes, does not merely carry the risk of future physical damage to buildings, structures and installations on the land; its presence imposes an immediate burden on landowners who face an increased difficulty in their ability to develop, and in the cost of developing, their land, should they wish to do so, because of the difficulties and expense of eradicating Japanese knotweed from affected land.
“In this way, Japanese knotweed can fairly be described as a natural hazard which affects landowners’ ability fully to use and enjoy their property and, in doing so, interferes with the land’s amenity value.”
Samantha Towle, a director at JMP Solicitors representing Mr Williams, says: “This is a fantastic result for our client, Mr Williams, as well as other homeowners in a similar position.
“The Court of Appeal decision confirms that the presence of Japanese knotweed is an interference with a homeowner’s quiet enjoyment of their property which entitles them to damages, including compensation for diminution in the value of their property.
“Every homeowner should be able to sell their home at its true value, but mortgage companies do not like to lend on properties that have knotweed within seven metres of a property boundary.
“Through no fault of his own, our client found that the value of his house was significantly affected by knotweed growing close to the boundary.”
In response to the ruling, a Network Rail spokesperson says: “As many gardeners know, Japanese knotweed is invasive and requires several years of treatment to remove. Once identified, Japanese knotweed growing on our land is entered into a treatment programme.
“We will continue with this established regime, which complies with legislation and helps us run a safe, reliable railway. Network Rail is aware of the ruling by the Court of Appeal and is considering its implications.”