02 January 2019
Japanese Knotweed is Invading my Property: What Are my Legal Rights?
Japanese knotweed is a problematic weed with long underground roots, which is known for its fast growth. It can cause havoc with drains, paving slabs, walls, outbuildings and even foundations. Once established, it is also very hard to remove, costing thousands of pounds and years of treatment.
The scourge of homeowners, Japanese knotweed is particularly pervasive along railway lines, partly because fragments attach themselves to rolling stock and take root in other areas.
A landmark case heard in the Court of Appeal earlier this year ruled that Network Rail – the public body responsible for railway cuttings, sidings and other areas – was liable for the encroachment of Japanese knotweed from its property into the gardens of two neighbouring bungalows in Wales.
This ruling could now open the floodgates for claims from thousands of other homeowners living near railway lines who find themselves in the same position.
Why could Network Rail be responsible?
In February 2017, Cardiff County Court concluded that the encroachment of Japanese knotweed from Network Rail’s land was sufficiently serious as to interfere with the claimants’ quiet enjoyment of their properties because they were reduced in market value (it was noted that neither sides’ experts had identified any physical damage to the properties). It was found that Network Rail had breached the duty of care owed to the claimants because they were aware of the Japanese knotweed on the land behind the claimants’ properties and had failed to treat it effectively.
Each claimant was awarded approximately £15,000 to include compensation to treat the knotweed (around £4,000), damages for loss of enjoyment of their property (around £1,400) and also in respect of a decrease in the value of the claimants’ properties once treatment was completed (around £10,000).
Network Rail challenged the decision and the case was considered by the Court of Appeal. The decision was upheld, although it came to its conclusion with slightly different reasoning than the previous court. The Court of Appeal found that while Network Rail could not be held liable for a decrease in the value of affected properties, the claimants were still entitled to compensation because the encroachment of the knotweed amounted to physical damage and affected their use and enjoyment of the land.
What should I do if my property is affected?
Network Rail says that once reported, Japanese knotweed growing on its land is treated for three to five years or until the problem is eradicated. Like all landowners, it has a legal obligation to stop the weed encroaching onto or damaging neighbouring properties.
In the first instance, you should put your complaint in writing to the landowner. If, however, it fails to take appropriate action you may consider taking independent legal advice and making a claim to recoup the costs outlined above. The previous ruling involving Network Rail does mean that going forward, claims like these brought against the company are more likely to be successful.
If the Japanese knotweed is encroaching from a private residence which is not the property of Network Rail, your local authority may also be able to offer advice.
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