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Japanese knotweed found to cause ‘loss of amenity’ for homeowners in landmark ruling
The Court of Appeal recently ruled on a claim brought by two South Wales’ homeowners against Network Rail because the company had allowed Japanese knotweed to invade their properties.
The company had appealed against an earlier decision that had awarded compensation to the claimant homeowners on the basis that their properties had been devalued by the presence of the knotweed. Mr Recorder Grubb had decided that the efforts made by the company to control the knotweed had been inadequate. As the plant caused a nuisance to the two homeowners, they were entitled to damages to cover the cost of an effective treatment plan, and for loss of value based on how the property values would be affected, even after the treatment plan had been completed.
Sir Terence Etherton, the Master of the Rolls and the court’s most senior judge, gave judgment and decided that the judge had gone too far by saying that the homeowners were entitled to damages for loss in value in the way the judge had said.
However, he went on to say that because the encroachment on their land by the knotweed was a nuisance, the homeowners didn’t have to show that the properties had been actually damaged. He explained that the presence of the knotweed alone was an interference with their use and enjoyment of the land, and that they were entitled to damages.
In upholding the original decision, but for different reasons, the Master of the Rolls referred to established principles and in doing so gave guidance on how homeowners might approach claims like this in future.
The case has obvious potential repercussions and we must wait to see if it is appealed to the Supreme Court. It begs the question, what is the difference between the diminution of value in a sale price, and the damages for loss of amenity caused by the presence of the knotweed?
The issues raised by this case may, like the knotweed, not go away that easily.
Partner Nick Cox, a practitioner with over 30 years’ experience, is rated by independent legal directory Chambers for his property litigation expertise. He specialises in contentious landlord and tenant work and is an experienced civil and commercial mediator.