Home buyer wins case against surveyor who failed to spot Japanese knotweed

A home buyer has been awarded £50,000 compensation plus costs of up to £90,000  after a surveyor failed to spot Japanese knotweed growing in the garden of the £1.2m property.

The buyer, Paul Ryb, ordered the highest level of survey – a Level Three Building Survey – for the family home because he is visually impaired and could not carry out the inspection himself.

Ryb, a former financier who lost his central vision in 2007, hired Conways Chartered Surveyors in London in 2014.

He was told that the property, a ground floor flat in Highgate, was in “excellent condition both internally and externally”.

The following year his gardener spotted the knotweed, prompting a long and costly battle to eradicate it.

A specialist firm, Environet, was called in and found Japanese knotweek to be visibly present in three locations.

The maturity of the plant proved it had been there for over three years, and would have been in leaf and flowering in early September when the survey took place.

Despite the knotweed and contaminated soil being removed by mechanical diggers, it returned in 2017 and 2018.

Ryb sued the surveyors and in March won £50,000 for the damage and disruption. The case has been back in the courts, where he has now also won  up to £90,000 to cover his legal costs.

He argued that if he had known about the knotweed, he would have put in a lower offer or pulled out of the deal.

Conways said that its surveyor was experienced, and had the Japanese knotweed been there for him to see, he would have seen it.

Judge Luba described the Conways surveyor as being “old school”. He had taken no photographs, drawn no plans and taken no measurements.

Ryb, a blind and visually impaired tennis champion, said after the case: “I bought the property in good faith following a building survey which gave it a clean bill of health.

“I am relieved to have finally won my case and hope it gives hope to other home owners who find themselves in a similar situation, that they may have a legal case for compensation.”

Nic Seal, managing director of Environet, said cases may not always be straightforward.

He said: “Purchasers who instruct a building survey when they buy a property should be able to trust a professional surveyor to identify Japanese knotweed.

“This case sends out a strong message that they will be protected by the law if their surveyor fails in his or her duty of care.

“However, if a home owner makes deliberate attempts to cover or hide knotweed, a surveyor cannot reasonably be expected to dig up the ground.

“In that case, the buyer may decide to seek damages from the seller for failing to disclose and deliberately concealing the knotweed.”

The known presence of Japanese knotweed should be specifically declared by agents to prospective buyers under Consumer Protection Regulations.


Email the story to a friend


  1. Will2

    So how did they prove knotweed was visible on the day the inspection was made? It could have been cut down to ground level.

    1. DarrelKwong43

      a possibility,  but the surveyors due diligence and record keeping was obviously shocking, so on balance the Judge found in favour of the claimant.

      1. Robert May

        It took the gardener 12 months to spot it, which perhaps suggests it was cut down before the property was marketed and did not reappear till the next  growing season.

        1. CountryLass

          The survey was done in September, so you could reasonably have expected him to have moved in in November/December, so ‘the following year’ would literally be the first spring/summer he was in there. And it states that it could have been there for at least 3 years and would have been flowering when the survey took place.


          To paraphrase your example below, if I shave my legs and it takes 3 days for hair to be visible, then the hair has been there for three days. If I have 5 days of growth on my legs, then I couldn’t have shaved them 3 days before. So the  owner couldn’t have cut it back.

          1. Robert May

            Cleared down to the ground and deeper, seemingly gone knotweed will reappear. Just because the roots have been there 3 years or more its quite possible stems and leaves were  deliberately not visible above ground all the time the property was being marketed or surveyed.


            Saying it would have been flowering without any evidence it was is as inadmissible as saying it wasn’t without proof it wasn’t.

    2. Bless You

      Still don’t understand why the seller isn’t being sued. Surveyor had nothing to gain apart from a few hundred quid.

      Where does this end???

      1. Bless You

        Did any insurances pay out for the company?

    3. Eagle60

      “The maturity of the plant proved it had been there for over three years, and would have been in leaf and flowering in early September when the survey took place.”

      1. Robert May

        You are aware that most ladies are not naturally without hair, down there, as it were?
        Exhibit a – Strimmer, Exhibit b – rake

        1. Bless You

          Cant believe they didnt have a disclaimer saying : Check for knot weed and get a knot weed specialist in for good measure… or is this where the chap being blind comes in ?



          1. cyberduck46

            Probably being added to template reports at this very moment.

  2. AgencyInsider

    Seems harsh considering that the plant is apparently not the problem it was once thought to be.


    1. Bless You

      Its not the crime that hurts these days its the legal fee’s.   
      Legal system seems to support the person with the most money. Look at how purplebricks have Russian style kept bad news out of the press by simply scaring little people with a massive legal bill. 

    2. Dom_P

      Telegraph links are so annoying as you can’t read them without paying for the privilege!

  3. Will2

    Perhaps surveyors should be commissioning a mandatory specialist horticultural report at the cost of clients to reduce the risks. After all can a surveyor be expected to be experts on horticultural matters as well as land and buildings?  Are they expected to identify newly cut down knotweed?  Are the expectations too high ?   Would you expect you GP to carry out complex surgery?  Surveyors are attacked because they are insured and lawyers like to act against any one insured where they stand a chance of getting their fees.

  4. NotAdoctor32

    Based on the fact that the surveyor  “had taken no photographs, drawn no plans and taken no measurements.” You have to question if he even went into the garden at all or did a proper job throughout the house.

    On more than one occasion I’ve had a surveyor pick keys up for a job and then return them in a timescale that would have been impossible for him to get to the property and actually do their job.  I’m sure some look at the photos and make a call based on that.  It will be rare but it will happen.

    Do a thorough job, back yourself with evidence and you win the case (or never have the case in the first place).

  5. Will2

    As it was a flat where does the freeholder stand in all of this?

  6. MrsF

    I think the issue is more that the surveyor   “had taken no photographs, drawn no plans and taken no measurements.”.

    I am trying to sort knotweed on the Rugby Pitch I run at the moment and it is a nightmare.

    1. Woodentop

      And that is the crux in civil law. He failed to prove a defence and the argument fell in favour of the claimant. Yes it was there, that is beyond doubt. Was it visible or cut out of sight by someone (e.g. vendor) at the time of the survey? That appears to have not been proven by either party. He has learnt the hard way that “old school” doesn’t work today.  Surveyors are human and although they shouldn’t make mistakes, they do. You need to cover your back with as many photographs as you can, it doesn’t take long with the kit today, even smartphone video and worth its weight in gold.

      1. Mothers Ruin

        I couldn’t agree more. There is Japanese Knotweed in the farmers field 100m away from my house and they have tried to dig it up (with a digger) and set fire to it and it still comes back. Under normal circumstances I would think it wasn’t fair on the surveyor, however why on earth didn’t he have a photo of the garden or any other records. Harsh penalty but like you say he didn’t have a defence! It’s all about protecting your back these days and level 3 is an expensive survey.


You must be logged in to report this comment!

Comments are closed.

Thank you for signing up to our newsletter, we have sent you an email asking you to confirm your subscription. Additionally if you would like to create a free EYE account which allows you to comment on news stories and manage your email subscriptions please enter a password below.