A traditional firm with a modern approach
It must seem strange to many who have only recently heard of Japanese Knotweed for the first time that something that has apparently hit the headlines so suddenly from out of the blue should now represent such a major risk to property buying and selling. Well, that is how it seems, but in fact the threat of Japanese Knotweed has been around for a very long time. In point of fact, Japanese Knotweed has been around since the Victorians introduced it to the country and is thought to have been liberally planted by councils and railway companies because it was believed to be a plant of choice for covering banks and open areas due to its invasive root spreading and binding characteristics.
The point is that no-one has made such a song and dance about it until now. It is as if the effect of Japanese Knotweed has not really been apparent or been taken seriously and has remained merely a threat and that only now the threat has become real. In truth, the reality probably is that the threat has been very real to some people in some places in the country but it has simply not been broadcast. Now it has. You may have seen the article in the Daily Mail on 20 July 2013 reporting that evidence of Japanese Knotweed at or near certain properties has been a disaster for the owners or buyers.
The writer managed the publication of an article about Japanese Knotweed as long ago as 2008 but it had very little impact then because only a few people appeared to have ever heard of it so as to recognise it if they saw it.
Under current law and more specifically Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, it is a criminal offence to plant or cultivate certain types of plant in the wild. These plants are listed in the Act under Schedule 9. Japanese Knotweed appears in the list along with a number of other hybrids. The penalty for breach of the legislation is a fine, potentially unlimited, and/or imprisonment for up two years! In the case of corporate entities the penalty can be imposed on a director or other officer of the company. There is a defence and that is where the accused can demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken to diligently avoid a breach of the legislation.
Now, with the change by the Law Society in the recommended questions that are raised by a dutiful conveyancer on behalf of his client who is buying a property, there is the question “is the property affected by Japanese Knotweed – Japanese Knotweed is an evasive plant that can cause damage to property and can take several years to eradicate”. The optional answers are “yes”, “no” and “not known”. What do you say if you have no idea what Japanese Knotweed looks like? What do you say if you do? What do you do if you think you know what it looks like and recognise it at or near your home you are selling or buying? Think of the damages you might be liable for if you are making up the answer and it is wrong?