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11th September 2018 | Michael Lewis | Real Estate Litigation, Residential Property
In recent years, there has been a surge in articles produced on Japanese Knotweed, a highly invasive and fast growing bamboo-like plant which seems to be haunting many gardens in Britain. It was introduced to the UK in the 1820s for its ornamental qualities but has since proved to be a hot topic as it is extremley costly for landowners and developers, causing structural damage, growing between concrete and blocking drainage systems. It is nearly impossible to eradicate and requires professional Japanese Knotweed contractors who have access to very powerful weed killers.
It has now reached the point where those affected by Knotweed are applying to the courts for compensation. The latest position adopted by the courts is to provide compensation in circumstances where there has been a loss of amenity but not where homeowners claim diminution in value.
This position follows a case that has been widely circulated in the news – Williams & Waistell v Network Rail Infrastructure Ltd. In 2017, two adjoining bungalow owners brought a claim against Network Rail for allowing knotweed to spread from the railway land up to the boundary and under their properties. The knotweed had not caused any physical damage to the bungalows so there was no basis for a claim in that sense. However, the bungalow owners alleged it had caused the properties to suffer a diminution in value and had stigmatised them. Mortgage lenders are very careful and are hesitant to lend on such properties.
The pair claimed that the presence of the knotweed had encroached on their properties, interfering with their quiet enjoyment and causing a loss of amenity by reducing market value. The judge found that Network Rail’s breach of duty and failure to properly manage the situation once they had become aware of the risks, had led to damage and continuing nuisance. The court awarded each claimant £10,000 for diminution of value and £4,320 for treating the knotweed to prevent further ingress.
Network Rail sought to challenge this decision at the Court of Appeal. The original judgment was upheld but it is important to highlight that the Court of Appeal based their decisions on different reasons to those given by the judge last year. The court determined that the parties affected could not succeed in a claim solely for private nuisance as a result of diminution in value. They could, however, be successful in a claim for nuisance caused by encroachment of the knotweed because of a reduced ability to enjoy the amenity of their respective properties.
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