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Homeowners looking to sell up have been warned that breaking a little-known rule related to their gardens could cost them up to £34,000.
The rule involves Japanese Knotweed, which is listed by the World Conservation Unit as one of the world’s most invasive species.
The plant grows extremely fast, up to 10cm a day, and can damage buildings and homes.
Stoke firm Japanese Knotweed Expert has been clearing the plant from homes and businesses across the country for more than 20 years.
Now the company’s boss Jason Harker has explained how you could fall foul of little-known environmental laws and end up tens of thousands of pounds in debt or, worse, in jail, reports StokeonTrentLive.
Originally imported by the Victorians as a specimen plant for its attractive heart-shaped leaves and pollen-rich buds, Japanese knotweed is now known for killing off native flora and damaging property by forcing its way through the tiniest of structural cracks.
It is not illegal to have it growing in your garden, and it does not have to be declared to the council or Environment Agency.
Anyone caught putting it in their green or brown bin, even if by accident or without knowing what it is, could face a £5,000 fine.
Businesses committing the same offence are liable for £20,000, with directors risking a six-month jail sentence.
More common, though, are potential pitfalls for anyone selling their home.
Mr Harker said: “It’s the effect it can have on the value that’s a problem and it can really complicate the process of buying and selling.
“What many solicitors don’t tell you, is the potential consequences of the TA6 form, which asks you whether there’s Japanese knotweed on your property – you can answer ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’.
“If you select ‘no’, you need to be absolutely certain there’s none growing on your property – or withing three metres of the boundary.
“By putting ‘no’, you’re accepting all the liability and the average legal claim if it turns out you’re wrong is £34,000 for misrepresentation.
“It’s not illegal to have it growing in your garden and you don’t have to declare it to the council or Environment Agency.
“But if you let it cross the boundary into your neighbour’s garden – even if it’s at root level and not visible – that becomes a serious issue.”
Mr Harker recommends that anyone selling their house to have a survey conducted.
He said: “If someone’s having to put ‘I don’t know’ on their TA6 form, I’d be telling them they need to be sure.
“On the other hand, they might turn round and say ‘you’re buying the house; it’s up to you to do it.
“Either way, it’s a better option to pay not much more than £300 to get it done than to risk the liability and cost of having to deal with it down the line. It’s much more common than you’d think.
“I remember we had one woman in her 80s who actually remembered going to a garden centre with her mum to buy it, then planting it in their garden.
“Decades later, she was being told it needed to go so she could sell her house.”
Mr Harker says the plant only causes serious damage to houses in a minority of cases.
He said: “Everyone talks about it damaging people’s homes. It does happen, but it’s very rare.
“There was one old house in Wales I remember where it’d grown underneath.
“It was such an old house the foundations were negligible and the Japanese knotweed had been removed by another company, but a huge void had been left, so the foundations had to be filled in with concrete.
“There was another building in the south of England where it’d somehow got behind the render and was reaching into the wall and pushing the render off.
“That was a complete re-rendering job that would’ve cost about £20,000.
“Most often, though, we see it causing minor damage by coming through tarmacked areas outside people’s homes, like their driveways.”
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