Legal claims against vendors over Japanese Knotweed have risen sharply over the last year, due in part to buyers and sellers rushing transactions to win stamp duty holiday savings
That’s the message from specialist knotweed treatment firm Environet UK, which says there has been a 25% year-on-year increase in misrepresentation cases because a seller has failed to declare the presence of knotweed on their property.
The figures come from research carried out in partnership with CEL Solicitors, a law firm specialising in knotweed-related claims.
Environet says the Law Society’s TA6 form, completed as part of the conveyancing process, requires sellers to state whether the property is “affected” by Japanese Knotweed.
A seller needs to be certain that no knotweed rhizome is present, including beneath the ground and within three metres of the boundary, in order to respond ‘No’ to the Japanese Knotweed question.
Specially trained sniffer dogs
Yet according to the firm, some sellers declare their property to be knotweed-free without carrying out the appropriate checks – only to find themselves on the end of an unpleasant and costly misrepresentation claim when it is later discovered.
Buyers can usually claim for the cost of treatment and the resulting diminution in the value of the property – knotweed can knock up to 10% off the value of a home.
Environet says the only way of knowing with a high level of certainty whether or not a property is affected is by using specially trained sniffer dogs, which can detect the scent of the knotweed root beneath the ground.
Nic Seal, founder and managing director 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.
Concealment ‘a costly mistake’
“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 CEL Solicitors, added: “Sellers have a legal obligation to declare the presence of Japanese Knotweed on their own or neighbouring properties and if they try to conceal the plant it can be a very costly mistake.
“Defending a misrepresentation claim can be difficult, as even if Japanese Knotweed doesn’t reappear until after the sale completes, a professional can still determine exactly how old the knotweed is and therefore the seller can be left with a hefty financial claim if it’s discovered it was present at the property prior to the sale.”