Lenders “over cautious” about Japanese knotweed: MPs

Mortgage lenders’ approach to Japanese knotweed is “over cautious”, according to a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.

A report by the committee concluded that more academic research is needed into the effects of the plant on the built environment.

According to the report, the presence of Japanese knotweed can have a “chilling” effect on the sale of a property.

While the physical damage to property from Japanese knotweed is no greater than other disruptive plants and trees that are not subject to the same controls, it is particularly hard to eradicate compared with other plants, requiring multi-year treatment. There is also an ongoing risk that Japanese knotweed will regrow.

During the inquiry, the committee were told that mortgage lenders in other countries do not treat the plant with the same degree of caution as UK lenders. MPs called for a “more measured and evidence-based approach” to ensure that the impact on lending decisions is proportionate to the plant’s physical effects.

The report recommends that Defra commissions a study of international approaches to Japanese knotweed in the context of property sales to further inform discussions on this issue, and report by the end of the year.

During the inquiry, MPs heard about the effects on individuals of Japanese knotweed, including disrupted sales, diminished property value and extended legal processes. Although it’s possible to get insurance-backed guarantees for mortgage lenders, these can be difficult to obtain if the plant is on neighbouring land, especially if the land is owned by Network Rail.

The existing Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) risk assessment framework for Japanese knotweed has ensured that in many cases lenders have the confidence to lend against properties affected by Japanese knotweed, so long as there are funded treatment plans and insurance-backed guarantees covering the treatment in place. These can be expensive for homeowners looking to sell, but they often provide a route for the buyer to secure a mortgage.

Chair of the Science and Technology Committee Norman Lamb MP says: “It is clear that the UK’s current approach to Japanese knotweed is more cautious than it needs to be, especially when comparing it to that of other countries.

“The current framework lacks a clear and comprehensive evidence base and yet is causing significant problems to some house vendors and purchasers. I am pleased that RICS responded to the select committee hearing and has already started the process of updating its 2012 assessment framework. We hope to see this no later than the end of the year.

“At present resolving disputes between neighbours regarding land affected by Japanese knotweed is challenging and can be protracted. This challenge will be diminished if a more proportionate approach to Japanese knotweed is taken. However, until we reach this position there needs to be an emphasis on resolving disputes through mediation rather than litigation.”

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