Home buyer wins £140,000 from surveyor in Japanese knotweed case

Posted: 22/6/2019

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A home buyer has been awarded £50,000 compensation plus costs of up to £90,000  after a surveyor failed to spot Japanese knotweed growing in the garden of the £1.2m property.

The buyer, Paul Ryb, ordered the highest level of survey – a Level Three Building Survey – for the family home because he is visually impaired and could not carry out the inspection himself.

Ryb, a former financier who lost his central vision in 2007, hired Conways Chartered Surveyors in London in 2014.

He was told that the property, a ground floor flat in Highgate, was in “excellent condition both internally and externally”.

The following year his gardener spotted the knotweed, prompting a long and costly battle to eradicate it.

A specialist firm, Environet, was called in and found Japanese knotweek to be visibly present in three locations.

The maturity of the plant proved it had been there for over three years, and would have been in leaf and flowering in early September when the survey took place.

Despite the knotweed and contaminated soil being removed by mechanical diggers, it returned in 2017 and 2018.

Ryb sued the surveyors and in March won £50,000 for the damage and disruption. The case has been back in the courts, where he has now also won  up to £90,000 to cover his legal costs.

He argued that if he had known about the knotweed, he would have put in a lower offer or pulled out of the deal.

Conways said that its surveyor was experienced, and had the Japanese knotweed been there for him to see, he would have seen it.

Judge Luba described the Conways surveyor as being “old school”. He had taken no photographs, drawn no plans and taken no measurements.

Ryb, a blind and visually impaired tennis champion, said after the case: “I bought the property in good faith following a building survey which gave it a clean bill of health.

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

Nic Seal, managing director of Environet, said cases may not always be straightforward.

He said: “Purchasers 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 home owner 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.”

The known presence of Japanese knotweed should be specifically declared by agents to prospective buyers under Consumer Protection Regulations.

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