Untangling rules around highly-invasive knotweed
Q If I am selling a house, do I have to disclose the presence of the invasive plant Japanese knotweed in the garden to a potential purchaser?
– RJ, St Austell
Solicitor Louise Tribble of Michelmores says:
The normal rules of caveat emptor (buyer beware) would apply in this case. You are not under any duty to disclose any information about the physical condition of the property.
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However, you will need to exercise care when answering any questions about your property. The Environment Agency refers to knotweed infestations and regards them as an environmental problem. It is less clear whether knotweed is a contaminative, or potentially contaminative, material. But a general question about environmental or contaminant problems at your house, rather than a specific question about knotweed, might still arguably require you to disclose its existence.
The relevant legislation on invasive weeds (the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981) is designed to prevent the spreading of knotweed. It does not impose a legal obligation on the owner or occupier of a site to inform anyone that knotweed is present on his land or even to remove it from his land.
However, there are legal obligations involved in the disposal of knotweed off-site, or the burning, burying or treating of it on-site (for example, obligations under the waste regime). This is explained in detail in a useful guide produced by the Environment Agency: "The knotweed code of practice".
It should also be borne in mind that, if knotweed at your property were to spread on to neighbouring land, this might amount to a common law nuisance, in which case the neighbouring landowner could commence civil proceedings against you.
Q I want to buy a house which has a party wall – what am I entitled to do to it?
– EEM, Barnstaple
A party wall is one that is shared by two properties, as is the case with walls between terraced or semi-detached houses. Most structural work to a party wall is governed by the Party Wall Act 1996. This act governs all sorts of alterations to party walls including increasing the height of a party wall (perhaps for a loft conversion or to add height to a room), underpinning, rebuilding or creating an extension near a party wall.
This means you will be required to serve notice on the adjoining owner and follow strict procedures in carrying out the work. In some cases, you may need to bear the adjoining owner's costs. So if you are planning to carry out structural work, you should seek advice from a local Building Control Office or professional surveyor. If you do not follow the Party Wall Act procedure correctly the adjoining owner could seek an injunction or make a claim for damages.
Louise Tribble is a Property Conveyancing Solicitor with Michelmores in Exeter.
If you have any questions for Louise, please email her on firstname.lastname@example.org