What are your responsibilities for declaring Japanese Knotweed?
Selling a property is a process that’s full of legal obligations and red tape and Form TA6 from the Law Society is a part of that process. The Seller’s Property Information Form TA6 is part of the Law Society’s National Conveyancing Protocol. The form is normally completed by a seller, who should answer the form carefully and honestly, declaring Japanese knotweed when it is present. The answers form part of the contract and can be binding, so where a seller doesn’t know an answer they should state that rather than guess or leave questions unanswered. The TA6 form is split into 14 sections, with section 7 being the one we’re interested in here.
What is Form TA6 for?
The Property Information Form, or TA6, is a document that is usually filled out by the vendor of a property. It is designed to streamline the conveyancing process by standardising the information that sellers provide to buyers.
You’re probably familiar with the phrase, ‘caveat emptor’ or ‘let the buyer beware’ which, in the context of a property purchase, means that buyers should discover as much about the property as possible. The TA6 Form balances the tables slightly, by asking a series of questions relating to the property; the seller is expected to provide accurate information about aspects of the property such as boundaries, neighbourly disputes, alterations and, of course, Japanese knotweed.
Section 7.8 – Japanese knotweed
In this section the seller must state whether the property is affected by Japanese knotweed. Any instance of infestation should be disclosed, though what the question is really intended to uncover is whether the property might be at risk from future damage from a knotweed infestation. If the answer is yes, the seller should provide a copy of any Japanese Knotweed Management Plan to the buyer’s solicitor, as well as any ongoing records if treatments have started. It’s well worth noting that a Management Plan by itself does not cover the property. The Management Plan must have been agreed to and actioned before it is of any significance to the purchaser and their lender.
If Japanese knotweed is spotted on or near their subject property by a valuation surveyor, they will recommend to the lender to halt the process until an invasive weed survey is carried out and a Knotweed Management Plan then produced and actioned.
Sellers are not expected to have expert knowledge of legal or technical matters, but they do need to supply accurate information where they can. Buyers are entitled to rely on the seller’s answers, but this does not mean they should ignore taking steps like formal surveys or making enquires of their own. In a best-case scenario, the TA6 should be seen as a useful tool for identifying potential pitfalls in a transaction before contracts are signed. In the worst case it could form the basis of a civil action where a seller has tried to unfairly disguise pitfalls about a property.
The Law Society’s explanation of how to complete the form is that “If you are a seller you should read the Instructions to Sellers at the beginning of the Law Society Property Information Form (TA6)… and …You are not expected to have expert knowledge of legal or technical matters, or matters that occurred prior to your ownership of the property. If you do not know the answer to any question, you must say so… and …If you later become aware of any information which would alter any replies you have given, you must inform your solicitor immediately. This is as important as giving the right answers in the first place.”
Most noteworthy is the Law Society’s warning that “If you are unsure of the meaning of any questions or answers, you should ask your solicitor” and further that, “It is very important that the answers are accurate. If you give incorrect or incomplete information to the buyer (on the Property Information Form (TA6) in writing or in conversation, whether through your estate agent or solicitor or directly to the buyer), the buyer may be able to make a claim for compensation or refuse to complete the purchase.”
Honesty IS the Best Policy
If an incorrect answer is given which is later discovered the buyer may make a claim against the seller under the law of misrepresentation. This could prove costly and could happen several years down the line after the property has been bought. If the defect is discovered before the property is bought the buyer may have the contract rescinded. If it happens afterwards there can be a claim for damages or compensation which can be quite substantial depending on the nature of the misrepresentation. So honesty truly IS the best policy and you can sleep well at night knowing that you have done the right thing.
If you are concerned with any issues relating to Japanese knotweed on your property feel free to give us a ring and talk things through. The PBA Team will happily help you through this legal jungle. Call us on 0203 174 2187.