Homeowner sues surveyor for failing to spot Japanese knotweed

A chartered surveyor who failed to identify Japanese knotweed growing in a garden during a residential property survey has been successfully sued by the homeowner.


By Joanne Atkin in Legal news, Surveying21st May 2019

Specialists in the removal of Japanese knotweed, say that the case strongly reinforces the legal precedent that surveyors must fulfil their duty of care by identifying the invasive plant. If they fail to do so, they could be sued for negligence.


Paul Ryb commissioned a chartered surveyor to carry out a Level Three RICS Building Survey of a ground floor flat in Highgate, North London. This is the most comprehensive survey available which provides an “in-depth analysis of the property’s condition”, including “a visual inspection of the grounds”.


The surveyor found the property to be in excellent condition with very few defects and recommended that the sale proceed.


The following year, a gardener discovered Japanese knotweed growing in the garden of the property. A removal firm was instructed to carry out a Japanese knotweed survey, during which it found knotweed to be visibly present in three locations.


The maturity of the plant proved that it had been there for more than three years and would have been in leaf and flowering, therefore easily identifiable, in early September when the survey took place.


Mr Ryb instructed a specialist to excavate the Japanese knotweed, at a cost of just over £10,000. He then brought legal action against the surveyor for negligence, suing for costs and damages including ‘making good’ of the gardens and grounds.


The Judge found in favour of the claimant and awarded him damages and costs, also taking into account diminution of property value, that is, the difference between the price he paid for the flat and what it would have been worth if the knotweed had been disclosed.


Paul Ryb commented: “I bought the property in good faith following a building survey which gave it a clean bill of health. I would not have gone ahead with the purchase, or at the very least would have renegotiated the price, if I had known it was affected by Japanese knotweed.


“I am relieved to have finally won my case and I hope it gives hope to other homeowners who find themselves in a similar situation, that they may have a legal case for compensation.”


A spokesperson for the specialist removal contractor, said: “Homeowners who instruct a building survey when they buy a property, should be able to trust a professional surveyor to identify Japanese knotweed. This case sends out a strong message that they will be protected by the law if their surveyor fails in his or her duty of care.


“However, if a homeowner makes deliberate attempts to cover or hide knotweed, a surveyor cannot reasonably be expected to dig up the ground. In that case, the buyer may decide to seek damages from the seller for failing to disclose and deliberately concealing the knotweed.”

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