THE KNOTTY PROBLEM AND NOT SCOOBY SNACKS
I read recently that dogs are now being trained to sniff out Japanese knotweed (“Knotweed”). Having grown up as a lover of Scooby Doo, I can’t help but wonder how much money Fred, Shaggy, Velma and Daphne could have made if, considering how seriously Knotweed is taken, they had put their canine’s extremely sensitive nose to this use and Scooby sought out Knotweed as fast as Scooby Snacks.
An updated Property Information Form (TA6) (“PIF”) and associated guidance notes was published on 7 February 2020. The most significant change was to a question relating to Knotweed. Knotweed has been a cause of much concern in recent times.
Knotweed is now a well discussed topic; the plant is incredibly invasive, causing damage to drains, driveways, and foundations to name a few examples. It spreads rapidly and is very difficult to manage, not to mention costly. This has implications on the value of a property and the ease of which it can be insured.
Knotweed and the PIF
The PIF is used by the seller of a property to give important information to the buyer. It asks for information such as whether there has been a breach of planning permission conditions, if the property is a listed building and parking arrangements at the property.
One of the questions asks whether a property is affected by Knotweed. The change to the PIF has added a ‘not known’ response. The guidance notes state: “if no is chosen as an answer the seller must be certain that no rhizome (root) is present in the ground of the property, or within 3 metres of the property boundary even if there are no visible signs above ground.”
Therefore, a seller must have total certainty if they answer “no”. The safest way to deal with this question is to answer, “not known”, unless the seller is sure about Knotweed at the property. This will mean that the buyer must then rely on their own enquiries, such as arranging for a professional survey at the property.
The implication of the change is that if, later along the line Knotweed is found when the seller has indicated that it did not know that there was any, the buyer must prove that this answer was false, and that the seller was aware of its presence.
This will place an extra burden and cost on a buyer to commission a survey in such circumstances, whereas they could rely on the yes or no provided by a seller before. For professional advisors, it will be necessary to advise your clients as such. With many experts indicating that it is all but impossible to provide a visual survey on the presence of Knotweed, if the buyer wants certainty they need to make sure they instruct someone who knows what they are doing.
What will the implications be when I sell or buy a property?
For the seller, you must answer honestly. If you are not sure, it is safest to indicate that you do not know.
For the buyer, the age old saying ‘buyer beware’ comes to mind. If the PIF tells you that the seller does not know about Knotweed, you must make your own enquiries.
Dogs…and other sources of Knotweed intelligence
Using dogs is novel, but there are other (more high-tech!) ways being used to locate Knotweed. including a firm that provides an online heatmap showing the location of Knotweed “sightings”. Although it cannot show property by property information, it apparently shows areas where there is a higher presence of Knotweed, and the information is crowdsourced.