£200,000 legal battle over knotweed after plant found behind shed at dream home
A furniture designer who bought his dream home only to find Japanese knotweed behind the garden shed has successfully sued the seller for tens of thousands of pounds.
Jonathan Downing, 30, bought a three-bedroom house in Raynes Park, south west London, for £700,000 from chartered accountant Jeremy Henderson, 41, in August 2018.
Mr Downing, who trained at the Chippendale International School of Furniture, planned to make his home in the Edwardian terrace, as well as building a workshop in the garden.
But while tidying the garden soon after moving in, he discovered Japanese knotweed canes behind a large St John’s wort bush which was growing next to the shed.
Japanese knotweed is an invasive species, notorious for its propensity to spread and cause damage to building structures, as well as the difficulty and expense of getting rid of it.
Mr Downing subsequently sued the former owner, demanding he pay damages for misrepresenting whether there was knotweed at the property when he sold it.
Mr Henderson had answered “no” to the question on the TA6 property information form asking if the property had been affected by knotweed and argued that he “reasonably believed” he was telling the truth when he did so.
He claimed he could not have seen the knotweed because of the large bush, which also probably stunted the weed’s growth before it shot up when the shrub was cut back after Mr Downing moved in.
But Judge Jan Luba KC threw out his case and handed him a costs and damages bill of more than £200,000 after finding he did not genuinely believe his property had not been affected by knotweed at the time he sold it.
Mr Henderson told the court: “I got a surveyor’s report when I moved in and it didn’t find any knotweed. No one identified any knotweed to me and I didn’t see any knotweed.
“The main reason is it was hidden by the bush and quite likely to have been hampered by the bush.”
However, Judge Luba, finding for Mr Downing, said his case had been undermined by his admission that he “didn't know what was behind the shed” where the knotweed was lurking.
The judge said his confidence in Mr Henderson’s story was “shaken” further by evidence given by a joint knotweed expert, which suggested that knotweed canes had possibly stood 2m tall at one point and might have been “overhanging the neighbouring garden”.
Mr Henderson must now pay £32,000 damages and Mr Downing’s lawyers bills of up to £95,000, as well as his own costs, estimated at almost £100,000.