A law firm specialising in Japanese knotweed-related claims called CEL Solicitors revealed there has been a 25 percent year on year increase in misrepresentation cases. These cases arise when a seller has failed to declare the presence of Japanese knotweed on their property and the buyer has found it on their property after the sale was completed. Environet UK said the sudden increase in claims is partly due to people rushing their transactions in order to save money during the stamp duty holiday which came to an end at the end of September.
Sellers are required to state whether the property they are selling is “affected” by Japanese knotweed in the Law Society’s TA6 form which is completed as part of the conveyancing process.
In order to put “no” on the form, sellers need to make sure there is no rhizome present, including under the ground, and within three metres of the property’s boundary.
Rhizomes are underground plant stems that can produce shoots and root systems of a new plant.
However, there are some sellers who say their property is knotweed-free without carrying out the correct checks.
They can then find themselves in a costly misrepresentation claim when the plant is later discovered within the property’s grounds.
Buyers are able to claim for the cost of the treatment – which can cost up to thousands – and the diminution of the value of the property.
Japanese knotweed can diminish a property’s value by 10 percent.
READ MORE: Meghan Markle didn’t ‘return’ gesture to Harry in New York
John Collins and his wife Jane bought a new build home in East Molesey, Surrey in 2016 which was reported to be free of Japanese knotweed.
The developer who built the property stated on the TA6 form that there was no Japanese knotweed in the vicinity or on the premises.
However, in spring 2017 a gardener noticed knotweed growing in a walled garden adjacent to the swimming pool house.
Environet identified that this was Japanese knotweed.
A further investigation into the plant found that the plant would have been present at the time of sale.
Discarded Japanese knotweed cuttings were also found on site, indicating that the seller had tried to conceal its presence.
Luckily, Mr and Mrs Collins had their legal fees covered by their home insurance policy.
Why Kate Middleton is banned from eating potatoes [INSIGHT]
Gardening: How often do you water an orchid? Expert’s guide [UPDATE]
Orchid care: Expert on how to get an orchid to flower again [ANALYSIS]
After appointing solicitor Charles Lyndon to pursue a legal case for misrepresentation, the couple won their case in autumn 2020 and were awarded several thousands of pounds in compensation.
Mr Collins said they were “shocked and worried” to find the invasive weed in their garden because they knew it can have a “big impact” on their property’s value as well as being tricky to get rid of.
He continued: “We were fortunate that our home insurance was willing to cover us for pursuing a legal claim and, although it was a long process, in the end we achieved a favourable result.
“With expert help, it’s relatively easy to prove how long knotweed has been there, so I’d encourage anyone in a similar position to go down the legal route and try to recover the lost value of their home.
“The Japanese knotweed question is part of the conveyancing process for a reason and dishonest sellers need to be held accountable.”
Property transactions hit a staggering 213,120 in June 2021 – a year on year increase of 216 percent compared to June 2020, according to data from HMRC.
The increase in transactions alone has prompted a rise in misrepresentation claims.
However, pressure to complete transactions before the stamp duty holiday ended or threshold changed may have encouraged some sellers to skip certain checks and state that their property is knotweed-free.
Some buyers may have also been tempted to skip a Japanese knotweed survey in order to speed up the process.
Now, detection dogs have been trained by Environet to sniff out knotweed rhizomes beneath the ground.
This is the only way of knowing with almost complete certainty whether or not a property has knotweed.
Nic Seal, Founder and MD of Environet, said: “From conversations with panicked buyers and sellers in the run up to the stamp duty holiday deadline in June, I’m not surprised we’re seeing a rise in misrepresentation claims.
“Japanese knotweed checks are an important part of the conveyancing process and in the rush to complete, worsened by delays in the conveyancing process, it was tempting to just hope for the best rather than commission an additional survey.
“For buyers who now find themselves in possession of a property they may have paid less for or not have bought at all if they’d had all the facts, it can be a worrying time.
“But by treating the infestation professionally and securing an insurance-backed guarantee for the work, it is possible in most cases to restore the value of the property to close to its original value – as the so-called ‘knotweed stigma’ can still have some impact.”
Mark Montaldo, director at national law firm CEL Solicitors, said “sellers have a legal obligation to declare the presence of Japanese knotweed” on both their own and neighbouring properties.
The expert said trying to conceal the plant can be a “costly mistake” with professionals being able to determine exactly how old the knotweed is.
The seller could be left with a huge financial claim if it’s found on the property prior to the sale.
Sellers should always try and treat knotweed professionally as soon as they spot it and declare its presence to avoid problems.
Mr Montaldo added: “Remember, that even if the knotweed was treated professionally years beforehand, there is still a legal requirement to disclose it.”