LEGAL CORNER: Japanese knotweed: garden invader could land you in legal hot water
Although as a property solicitor I am not renowned for my horticultural prowess, recently I have come to know quite a lot about the East Asian garden invader that is Japanese knotweed.
This innocent-looking plant is easily mistaken for bamboo but don’t be fooled, innocent it is not. In the wild, it impacts on wildlife habitats and can contribute to flooding. On occupied land, it can grow through cement structures, brick walls and floorboards, causing significant damage to buildings. Left untreated, it can spread rapidly and become uncontrollable.
This alien invader has caused such problems in the UK that knotweed is classified as controlled waste under Part II of our Environmental Protection Act (1990); this requires it to be disposed of in legally prescribed fashion at a licensed landfill site.
There is a very real likelihood that a Japanese knotweed infestation on your land could not only cause substantial and costly damage to buildings but also adversely affect your ability to insure your property, ultimately reducing both its value and marketability.
So, what should you do if you discover this exotic offender on your land? Most buildings insurance policies exclude knotweed-related issues, so you should take immediate action to prevent or limit any damage. Consider using a specialist company to deal with treatment and ensure the offending plant material is handled properly.
Putting aside the risk of damage to your land, the law does not directly place an obligation on you to control or treat the infestation. However, should you fail to take reasonable measures to control it and your failure results in the plant spreading, you could find yourself on the wrong side of legal proceedings.
A ciivil lawsuit may be brought against you for causing a nuisance if the plant spreads to neighbouring property; you could be deemed criminally liable if you fail to handle the plant correctly, for example by dumping it at your local tip; your council may take enforcement action against you if knotweed from your land adversely affects the public highway.
If you are looking to sell your property, be prepared to answer questions about potential knotweed infestations; as a buyer, caveat emptor (buyer, beware!) applies, so be sure to consult a competent surveyor before completing the purchase. And, if you have any concerns about your property transaction, contact the expert George Ide team for specialist legal advice.
Nick Smith, partner & head of residential conveyancing
George Ide, LLP
Solicitors of Chichester and Bognor Regis