Japanese Knotweed stopping a house sale – story from the BBC

Our expert on Japanese knotweed, Tom Goodman, spoke to Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London show last week to comment on a couple who are opening a civil court case against Network Rail in a row over Japanese knotweed infestation, which is growing on a neighbouring railway track behind their garden.

In their case the couple claim this makes the property unsellable because of the notorious weed growing on the company’s land. It also caused them to spend over whopping £9,000 in legal fees up to this point.

Japanese knotweed can make you unable to get a mortgage

To recap the story, the newly married couple from Stamford Hill, London, in order to re-locate to a larger property, tried to re-mortgage their current upper floor flat. But soon after they found themselves struggling with the sale as their mortgage was turned down.

As the surveyor who visited the property identified a knotweed infestation just within 7 meters from the downstairs flat, the couple are now unable to sell their apartment.

What’s even worse, at that time, they were in the process of purchasing a new dream home – however the seller was unable to put off the sale, therefore the deal also fell through.

Interestingly enough, the infestation was chopped down by the Network Rail staff merely 2 weeks ago when the story emerged in a local newspaper, after denying the couple access to their land in order to allow for a treatment program to be carried out by a specialist companya treatment that the couple wanted to pay for.

Network Rail staff did not remove knotweed properly, as the bits of rhizomes still remain on the land. More importantly, no specialist contractor was involved, hence it is not possible to produce any certificate of treatment or insurance in case the knotweed infestation re-emerges.

The plaintiff has serious worries that if the legally accessible part of the land is treated now and the invasive weed returns, any insurance-backed guarantee will be denied due to much mature knotweed re-growing just behind the fence.

How to get rid of knotweed successfully then?

Here is what our expert had to say about the situation – this will hopefully give you a deeper understanding why Japanese knotweed is such an invasive weed and why just chopping it down with a shiv is a terrible idea:

In recent years, the more it’s been publicised the more we found out that the correct ways of treating it are proving to be way more effective. […] It’s now described as invasive species under The Wildlife and Countryside Act from 1991, meaning it’s an offence to allow for spread of Japanese knotweed onto the wild.

Having Japanese knotweed on your land does not bear any legal consequences as long as it does not spread onto the neighbouring properties. It is a landowner’s responsibility to take actions with due diligence preventing the spread.

Now, it is in an issue for homeowners, also at the moment with cases such as Kat’s, where the mortgage companies or lenders are actually refusing to issue any further mortgages if knotweed is found anywhere in their property.

This is causing huge issues, well, worldwide really, and especially in this country where it’s sort of holding house delays and we have it from our clients all the time in the process of selling houses, which is of course cauing a lot of frustration.

What really needs to be done to eradicate Japanese knotweed once and for all?

Removing the scourge is really not a simple process and unfortunately quite prolonged.

There are two situations where it occurs; if you’re developing and want to extend your house or suchlike, you can go down the road of excavation of the knotweed. It’ll have to be taken away under the Waste Regulation as all bits of knotweed are classified as controlled waste. But the cost of this is obviously very high.

This is because any ground soil that contains parts of rhizome is considered contaminated and, if removed off-site, needs to be disposed of at a suitable licenced landfill, and be buried at least 5 meters beneath the surface.

This is why the most common solution is the treatment plan. These typically last from 3 to 5 years, which a lot of people find difficult to understand, since “it’s just a weed in the garden”, however, you just can’t take it away like a normal weed.

You can’t just put it in a wheeler barrel or put it in a refuse bag and dump it – but why not?

The actual vegetation growth from the surface is not the invasive side of it; it’s actually the rhizomes and the roots under the ground that are highly notorious. So by cutting it down to the ground level, all you’re doing is taking away is that year’s growth, not actually tackling the problem that’s underneath the ground.

And that’s the reason why the treatment programs last so long is that the actual treatment is spread onto the vegetation and then down into the rhizomes, aiming to kill the rhizomes over time; the roots can be so strong that it takes many years; sometimes it may be one year but the treatment program could as well drag onto 4 or 5 years, before the actual harvest treatment will affect the knotweed roots.

What’s happening meanwhile during those 5 years to the house floor that the knotweed is crawling through or your mortgage prospects?

As a PCA-approved company, when we activate the treatment plan on a property, we’ll come out and surveil the area, we’ll then issue a treatment plan on that along with an insurance-backed guarantee within a couple of days.

These are the documents that are required by the mortgage companies for re-mortgage. So this can be a simple and quick process if it’s carried out effectively and the knotweed is just within the boundaries of your property.

However, the problem that occurs here is that where you’re in residential areas in built-up cities there are many cross-boundary disputes, when Japanese knotweed is not only found on your land but also on the neighbouring land.

This is what’s happening in this case, but the neighbour – Network Rail – won’t give access to the infected land.

If it would be a standard neighbour, they’d be more than happy to let us in, we’d treat both sides of infestation and then we’d be able to issue the guarantee.

However, if we are not treating that neighbouring property of knotweed, we are unable to issue the guarantee, because we in no position to prove that the knotweed is not going to spread back again, if the other part of the infestation is not being treated.

Surely this is not the only such a case across the country right now. If the couple succeed to win the court case, it may result in a precedence forcing Network Rail to compensate property owners up and down the country.

You can listen to the entire show on the BBC Radio website here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wxplw#play

or find out more about the story in this article: http://www.thisislocallondon.co.uk/news/14532257…

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