Conveyancers confronting Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed is the most invasive plant in the UK and due to the legal framework in place to protect homebuyers, it is a problem that conveyancers are often required to confront.

The risks the plant presents both directly to property and to transactions is well documented, but what recent developments does every conveyancer need to know about?

Impact of the changes to the TA6 guidance to the Japanese knotweed question.

Amendments made to The Law Society’s Explanatory Notes accompanying the TA6 conveyancing form, made in February 2020, has prompted a rise in the number of sellers answering ‘Not known’ to the Japanese knotweed question. In order to respond ‘No’, i.e. their property is not affected, sellers must now be certain that no rhizome is present beneath the ground or within 3 metres of the boundary, even if there are no visible signs above ground.

This means in practical terms that sellers who are not aware of a knotweed problem on their property are increasingly answering ‘Not known’, leaving it up to the buyer to undertake their own enquiries.

How can a buyer undertake enquiries to check whether the property has live knotweed beneath the ground?

A surveyor can’t reasonably be expected to dig up the garden, and no seller would agree to it, so what’s the most effective way to find out if knotweed is present? There is a novel new solution to this problem in the form of sniffer dogs. Dog detection surveys, recently launched by Environet, can bring peace of mind to homebuyers that a property is free from knotweed with the highest possible level of certainty. A team of three sniffer dogs have been specially trained to detect knotweed in a garden or development site, even if it’s hidden beneath the ground. This might be because it’s dormant, has been concealed by the seller, or because it’s winter and the plant has naturally died back. The dogs can cover a garden in a matter of minutes and will indicate by ‘freezing’, or staying completely still, when Japanese knotweed is detected. Where it’s not found, an insurance-backed guarantee can be provided.

A choice of winter treatments mean there’s no need to delay.

It’s a common misconception among the public and property professionals that Japanese knotweed is best treated during the summer when it’s in full leaf. It’s true that herbicide treatments can only be applied during the growing season (May to October) but there are alternative methods that are more effective and can be carried out at any time of year. DART™ is one such combination treatment that involves removing the bulk of the rhizome from the ground before treating any remaining growth with herbicide the following spring. For buyers and sellers dealing with knotweed problems during the current busy winter period for the property market, treatment can be started without delay and an insurance-backed guarantee provided for the work which will satisfy most lenders and allow the transaction to go ahead.

Our latest research with YouGov, carried out annually, suggests that awareness of Japanese knotweed has continued to grow and now stands a remarkable 80%. As the public become better informed of the risks, conveyancing solicitors need as much knowledge in their armoury as possible, enabling them to support their clients in making informed decisions.

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