Premium

Hope in sight for homeowners as knotweed rules overhauled

A sign warning of Japanese knotweed
Surveyors to rewrite guidance and help mortgage lenders relax about the plant Credit:  Christopher Kimmel/ Getty Images Contributor

Homeowners struggling to get mortgages or sell homes due to Japanese knotweed could find their prayers answered, as financial firms overhaul how they treat the plant.

Properties with knotweed face restricted mortgage choice and struggle to sell, as the plant has a toxic reputation for causing building damage.

But a report out today from the science and technology committee said mortgage lenders were “over cautious” about homes with the plant nearby.

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP and committee chairman, said: “The presence of Japanese knotweed can have a chilling effect on the sale of a property.

"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.”

Around half of mortgage lenders will not lend to homes with knotweed present.

The rest take a case-by-case approach but may require homeowners to buy expensive treatment before lending.

But banks could take a more relaxed approach to the plant when the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), a professional body, replaces its guidance for lenders on the issue.

The original 2012 guidance created “risk levels” around knotweed, with the highest being the plant growing within seven metres of a building.

This meant to sooth the growing fear among banks about lending to properties with knotweed. Some lenders relaxed their stance, but others overreacted.

The committee report said the seven-metre rule was a blunt instrument and a better approach was needed.

Rics is now overhauling the document due to requests from the committee, and could finish replacing it this year, according to the report.

John Baguley, of Rics, said: "Rics is now in possession of proposed methodologies and is developing next steps."

The body said it would take "the latest academic research" into account, which suggests knotweed is not as damaging as previously thought.

Last July, the University of Leeds and engineering firm Aecom found knotweed actually causes no more property damage than many other plants with more innocent reputations.

A UK Finance spokesman said: “Further Government research into knotweed would provide useful insight and we will work alongside the Law Society and Rics to support the delivery of the report’s recommendations.”

For the week's most important personal finance news, analysis and expert advice, from pensions and property to investment ideas and savings tips, sign up to our weekly newsletter.