Twists and tangles in the Japanese knotweed case

23 Mar 2017

Two adjacent homeowners have been successful in claiming damages against Network Rail after the detection of Japanese knotweed nearby affected the sale of their properties.

The case was originally brought against Network Rail when the homeowners attempted to sell their properties and found that the values had fallen and no mortgage providers would lend against them due to the close proximity of the plant.

Japanese knotweed is a large, fast spreading, and destructive perennial plant that can cause huge issues for developers and private homeowners. The effects can be severe and, as shown in this case, can cause mortgage providers to refuse to lend on homes that have either been affected by, or are in close proximity to, Japanese knotweed. Dealing with Japanese knotweed comes at a high cost and in 2015 UK ministers estimated that a national eradication program would cost £1.5 billion in total. 

The County Court Judge found that the properties in question had suffered from encroachment and the plant had interfered with the use and enjoyment of their land. Consequently, the Japanese knotweed was classified as a private nuisance. The damages awarded were for the costs of treatment and the loss in value of the properties after the treatment had been carried out. The Judge also clarified that if Network Rail failed to treat the knotweed the claimants would be able to claim further damages.  

This case is highly significant as it has the potential to open the floodgates to further claims. Network Rail alone has thousands of miles of track across the country, with numerous properties adjoining the track. The decision indicates that the Japanese knotweed does not need to be located on the affected property or be causing any physical damage in order for a claim to be successful.

The case has clearly put the onus on landowners (public or private) to control and take action on any issues relating to Japanese knotweed that has the potential to affect neighbouring properties. It highlights the importance of inspecting your land to ensure that there is no Japanese knotweed that could affect others, or any adjacent to your property which could hinder your property value or ability to sell.

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