When selling a property, sellers had are within the property information form whether the property is infected by Japanese knotweed. This is due to the fact that presence of knotweed can have a considerable impact on the value of the property, a banks ability to lend along with the insurability of the property.
Japanese knotweed is the most invasive plant found in the UK. The plant spreads rapidly (up to 10cm a day during the months of April to October) and cause considerable damage to land. It roots can stems penetrate foundations and concrete, meaning the costs of repair and removal can be substantial.
In the case of Williams’s v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd  UK CC (2 February 2017) the court ruled that a landowners failure to control knotweed can result in a common law nuisance claim from neighbouring properties, even if no physical damage was caused.
In Williams v Network Rail the Claimants owned properties that neighboured a railway embankment and pathway owned by Network Rail. The embankment and pathway had been infested with knotweed for over 50 years and had subsequently spread to the Claimants land.
The Claimants sought damages against Network Rail by advancing two arguments:
- The knotweed had caused damage physical damage to their properties; and
- The presence of knotweed had prevented them from selling their properties at the current market value.
The first argument ultimately failed on the facts as they failed to establish that the presence of knotweed had caused physical damage to their properties. However the presence argument succeeded and the court held that the presence of the knotweed had interfered with the Claimant's quiet enjoyment of their land along with the fact that the Claimant's could not sell their properties at market value. The claimants were able to prove common law nuisance on the basis that the knotweed had been present for around 50 years and despite Network rail having sought to eradicate the issue in 2013 they had failed to do so. As such it was established that the interference was reasonably foreseeable and that Network Rail had failed to prevent the interference as a reasonable landowner.
A key principle established in the case was that fact that a Claimant can establish nuisance at common law in cases where there has been no physical damage. The case is a good warning to landowners with large portfolios who fail to inspect their properties on a regular basis. Whilst the case is likely to open a floodgate of claims of a similar nature Network Rail have since appealed which the Court of Appeal heard on 5 June 2017. As such the outcome of the appeal is awaited with interest.
This article is written by Abtin Yeganeh, a Trainee Solicitor at Posada & Co.