Man given £200,000 bill because old house had Japanese knotweed may have to sell his new home
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A man who thought he'd bought his dream home has sued the seller after he discovered Japanese knotweed in the garden.
Jonathan Downing, from London, forked out £700,000 on the three-bedroom property in Prince George's Avenue, Raynes Park, back in 2018.
At the time, the furniture designer was over the moon with his purchase and planned on building a workshop in the garden.
However, while fixing things up, the 30-year-old found Japanese knotweed canes behind a large bush that was growing next to his shed.
If you've never heard of this particularly pernicious plant, it's a nightmare, and is known to spread quickly, damaging homes and making them almost impossible to sell on.
After making the discovery, Mr Downing took legal action, suing former owner Jeremy Henderson for £32,000 to cover the costs of investigating the problem.
Mr Henderson denied any wrongdoing, saying that he wasn't aware of the knotweed when he sold the house.
Unfortunately for him, though, Judge Jan Luba KC did not see it the same way.
During a hearing at Central London County Court, Judge Luba ruled that Mr Henderson did not genuinely think the house had not been affected by the knotweed at the time of the sale.
As a result, Mr Henderson has been left with a bill of over £200,000.
Mr Downing's barrister Tom Carter told Judge Luba that an expert said the weed had probably been in the garden since at least 2012, three years before the former owner moved in.
They had also said that it was likely the knotweed canes had possibly stood 2m tall at one point.
And he said that when he came to sell the property in 2018, legal forms required him to outline whether or not there was any knotweed, to which he said 'no'.
"The defendant could have ticked 'Yes', 'Not Known' or 'No' - by ticking 'No', the defendant chose to positively assert there was no knotweed at the property and thereby made a misrepresentation," said Mr Carter.
Mr Downing said that had Mr Henderson claimed it was 'not known', he would have looked into it further himself.
Responding to the allegations, Mr Henderson said: "I had lived there for three years and spent quite a lot of time in the garden and hadn't seen knotweed.
"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."
Judge Luba, however, ruled in favour of Mr Downing, telling the court that the former owner undermined his own case by claiming he 'didn't know what was behind the shed', despite also saying he was certain there was no Japanese knotweed at the time of the sale.
"Had that evidence stood alone, he would have amply satisfied me of his reasonable belief that there was no Japanese knotweed at his property," the judge said.
"I ask myself whether Mr Henderson genuinely did believe there was no Japanese knotweed affecting the property. I'm not satisfied he has met that burden.
"Even if I am wrong and he did genuinely believe the answer, he has not shown me that he had any reasonable grounds for doing so.
"The defendant is liable to the claimant for the sum of damages agreed."
Mr Henderson must now pay £32,000 in damages to Mr Downing, on top of his legal bills of up to £95,000, as well as his own legal costs of almost £100,000, leaving him in fear he'll have to sell his new house to front the cost.
He was ordered to pay the damages plus £65,000 costs within 21 days.