Furniture designer who found Japanese knotweed behind shed in £700k home successfully sues seller – Daily Mail | NutSocia

A furniture designer who found Japanese knotweed behind the garden shed after moving into his £700,000 dream home has successfully sued the seller and faced him with a £200,000 court bill.

Jonathan Downing, 30, bought his three-bedroom home on affluent Prince George’s Avenue, Raynes Park, in south-west London in August 2018 from chartered accountant Jeremy Henderson, 41.

Mr Downing, who was educated at the world-renowned Chippendale International School of Furniture, planned to make his home on Edwardian Terrace and set up a workshop in the garden.

But when he was tidying up the garden shortly after moving in, he discovered Japanese knotweed behind a large St. John’s wort bush that was growing next to the shed.

A furniture designer who bought his £700,000 dream home only to find Japanese knotweed behind the garden shed (pictured) has successfully sued the seller

Jonathan Downing, 30

Jeremy Henderson, 41

Jonathan Downing (left), 30, bought his three-bedroom home on affluent Prince George’s Avenue, Raynes Park, south-west London in August 2018 from chartered accountant Jeremy Henderson (right), 41

Japanese knotweed is an invasive species notorious for its tendency to spread and cause damage to building structures, as well as the difficulty and expense of getting rid of it.

Mr Downing then sued the former owner, ordering him to pay damages for misrepresenting whether there was knotweed when the property was sold.

Mr Henderson had answered ‘no’ to the question on the TA6 property information form asking whether the property was infested with knotweed and argued that he ‘reasonably assumed’ he was telling the truth when he did so did.

He claimed he couldn’t see the knotweed because of the large bush, which probably also stunted the growth of the weeds before they shot up when the bush was cut back after Mr Downing moved in.

But Judge Jan Luba KC threw out his case and handed him a bill of costs and damages in excess of £200,000 after stating he didn’t really believe his property was unaffected by knotweed at the time of the sale.

Outlining the case at Central London County Court, Mr Downing’s lawyer Tom Carter told Judge Luba that an expert said the weeds had likely been in the garden since at least 2012.

Mr Henderson had moved in himself in 2015 before selling to Mr Downing in 2018, and specifically stated in the sale forms that “no” knotweed affected the property.

Mr Downing, who was educated at the world-renowned Chippendale International School of Furniture, planned to make his home in the Edwardian Terrace (above) and set up a workshop in the garden

Mr Downing, who was educated at the world-renowned Chippendale International School of Furniture, planned to make his home in the Edwardian Terrace (above) and set up a workshop in the garden

“The defendant could have ticked ‘yes’, ‘not known’ or ‘no’ – by ticking ‘no’ the defendant chose to affirmatively claim that there was no knotweed on the property and thereby made a misrepresentation” said Mr Carter.

Mr Downing sued for £32,000 to cover the cost of investigating and excavating the site and the depreciation of his home caused by the knotweed incursion.

His attorney said there was no way Mr Henderson could show he had “reasonable belief” that knotweed was not present at the time the seller’s forms were filled out.

“The defendant cannot relieve him of the burden of proving that he had reasonable grounds to believe that the property was not affected by knotweed,” he said.

Mr Downing gave evidence and told the judge that – if Mr Henderson had said it was “not known” whether the property was infested with knotweed – he would have examined it further.

But in his own testimony, Mr Henderson said he had no reason to believe there might be knotweed in his garden.

“I had lived there for three years and spent quite a bit of time in the garden and had never seen knotweed,” he said.

“When I moved in, I got a survey report that found no knotweed.

“No one has identified a knotweed and I have not seen any knotweed.

“The main reason is that it was obscured by the bush and was probably obstructed by the bush.”

But Judge Luba said: “Everything revolves around the specific facts of the agency act and their individual circumstances.

But when he was tidying up the garden shortly after moving in, he discovered Japanese knotweed behind a large St. John's wort bush that was growing next to the shed.  Pictured: Mr Henderson outside Central London County Court

But when he was tidying up the garden shortly after moving in, he discovered Japanese knotweed behind a large St. John’s wort bush that was growing next to the shed. Pictured: Mr Henderson outside Central London County Court

“Mr. Henderson told me under oath that he truly believes there are no Japanese knotweed in his garden. He knew what it looked like and hadn’t seen one in the three years he’d been there. His mother was a keen gardener and she never told him about Japanese knotweed.

“No previous owner had mentioned Japanese knotweed to him, and none of the neighbors had Japanese knotweed in their yard.

“Had that evidence stood alone, he would have sufficiently convinced me of his reasonable assumption that there was no Japanese knotweed on his property.”

But he went on to say that Mr Henderson’s case was undermined by his admission that he “didn’t know what was behind the shed” where the knotweed lurked.

The judge said his confidence in Mr Henderson’s story was further “shaken” by evidence from a joint knotweed expert, which suggested knotweed canes may have stood 2m tall at one point and “towered over the neighboring garden”.

There is also evidence that the weeds were treated with herbicides at some point in the past, he said.

“The single joint expert is of the opinion that the Japanese knotweed would have been visible in the garden,” he continued.

“I wonder if Mr. Henderson really believed that Japanese knotweed hadn’t infested the property. I am not satisfied that he has carried this burden.

“Even if I’m wrong and he really believed the answer, he hasn’t shown me that he had any reasonable reasons for it.

‘The defendant is liable to the plaintiff in the amount of the agreed damages.’

Mr Henderson must now pay £32,000 in damages and up to £95,000 in Mr Downing’s legal bills, as well as his own costs, which are estimated at almost £100,000.

Has was ordered to pay the damage plus £65,000 in costs within 21 days.

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