Japanese knotweed claims increase despite proposed RICS guidance



The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) published draft guidance in the summer of 2021 on assessing Japanese knotweed, in a move to prevent the discovery of knotweed during surveys derailing property sales. However as 2021 draws to a close, a survey has indicated that legal claims by buyers of properties affected by knotweed have risen by 25% year-on-year.

Japanese knotweed has a fearsome reputation among property owners and lenders. It is an invasive species, which has been linked to significant structural damage to properties. However some now believe the risks to have been overstated (See: Brunel News November 2019).

RICS has worked with the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs to establish a management framework to enable sales to proceed when knotweed is discovered. It proposes steps surveyors should take when undertaking valuations and surveys.

Philip Santo FRICS, who wrote the new guidance, said: “Creating confidence and awareness that knotweed isn’t a death sentence for home sales is a key principle behind this guidance – it’s certainly not the ‘bogey plant’ that some make it out to be.”

Despite these moves to address the issue of knotweed, legal claims against vendors who have failed to disclose the presence of the plant have risen by 25% over the last year according to a survey by knotweed treatment firm Environet UK. Both Environet and the law firm CEL Solicitors, which specialises in knotweed-related claims, says the rise is due in part to buyers and sellers rushing transactions to benefit from the recent stamp duty holiday.

James Burgoyne, Divisional Director – Claims & Technical of Brunel Professions welcomes the prospect of new RICS guidance: “Surveyors and valuers are exposed to the risk of negligence claims if they don’t identify knotweed on a property. The guidance will give them a defence against knotweed claims if they have followed its measures in full.”

RICS has published its draft guidance and a press release on its website. Reports about the guidance have been published by Penningtons and RPC. News about the increase in knotweed claims has been published by The Negotiator and the Daily Express.

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We would draw attention to the risk management checklist in the RPC article, which practitioners may benefit from considering carefully.