Home buyer awarded £50,000 after surveyor fails to spot Japanese knotweed

22 May 2019

A court has awarded a homeowner £50,000 after a surveyor failed to mention knotweed growing in the garden of his ground floor flat in Highgate, north London.

In 2014, Paul Ryb paid for the highest level of survey from Conways Chartered Surveyors as he is partially sighted and could not see the knotweed himself on the £1.2 million property he was buying.

He only found out that he had knotweed a year later when a gardener spotted it, leading to £10,000 worth of excavation works, which removed this fast-growing, bamboo-like weed in the short term. 

Mr Ryb then faced a second outbreak of knotweed, by which time he had taken out insurance cover.

The Times reports Judge Jan Luba describing the surveyor as “old school”, adding: “He had taken no photographs. He had drawn no plans. He had taken no measurements. This job gave rise to no special features that singled it out in his memory.”

Mr Ryb was also awarded £90,000 to cover legal costs.

News of this case comes in the wake of a recent report that Japanese knotweed is wrongly knocking thousands off house prices because of out-of-date science used by mortgage lenders, which is leading mortgage providers to be overly cautious.

Angela Must, senior associate and solicitors Kingsley Napley offers the following advice if you are worried about knotweed in your garden:

What should I do if I have Japanese knotweed on my property?

Do not try and treat this yourself. While instinct may tempt you to cut it down, Japanese knotweed must be treated at the root and by cutting it down, you could in fact delay the treatment process and may breach strict regulations which control the disposal of knotweed.

Take professional advice on how to eradicate it. Any remedial works must be done by a suitably qualified expert. Make sure any action taken is covered by an appropriate insurance-backed guarantee which must benefit current and future owners and lenders of the property.

Am I liable for knotweed spreading to adjoining properties?

You must deal with Japanese knotweed straight away.  If you fail to do so then you could be faced with a hefty claim from any adjoining landowner. This claim could be not just for the costs of removing the knotweed from the adjoining property but also for the decrease in value of the adjoining property. 

What should I do if I am buying a property?

Where sellers of existing properties are aware that the property or garden is, or has been, affected by Japanese knotweed, they must declare it on the property information form (known as a Form TA6) as part of the sale process. 

However, developers and builders are not obliged to complete this property information form and if you are buying from a developer or builder then you should make sure your solicitor asks specific enquiries to get written confirmation of both the current and the historic knotweed position.

A buyer should always get a survey of the property carried out and should ensure that survey includes the garden and, where possible, gardens of adjoining properties.  This doesn’t apply just to buying a house.  

Can I get insurance against Japanese knotweed?

Indemnity insurance cover can be taken out to provide protection for buyers and mortgage lenders if Japanese knotweed is discovered. This will generally only be available if no knotweed has been discovered on your property or if it has been successfully treated in the past.

This insurance could cover the cost of a survey report to confirm the presence of knotweed, the cost of treatment, repair of any damage caused and could also extend to defending any legal proceedings in the event of any third party being affected.  

Keep an eye out for Moneywise's comprehensive feature on knotweed... coming soon

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