Letting agents and landlords are obliged by law to carry out risk assessments for legionnaire’s disease, and if necessary, take action.
These guidelines apply primarily to England. Other regions and jurisdictions are similar but there may be important differences. This is not a definitive interpretation of the law, every case is different and only a court can decide. If in doubt seek expert advice.
What is Legionnaires Disease?
Legionnaires is a pneumonia like illness caused by the Legionella bacteria, which can be fatal. Legionella bacteria are widespread in rivers, lakes and water systems where the temperature of the water is such as to encourage growth of the bacteria, e.g. a hot water system. People can catch the disease by inhaling small droplets of water which may be suspended in the air and contain the bacteria. Stored and recirculated water is a particular risk.
The Health and Safety Executive have produced two guides following an Approved Code of Practice:
1 – Legionnaires’ disease: a brief guide for duty holders – https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/indg458.pdf
2 – Legionaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems. https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/l8.pdf
These documents spell out the legal requirements for landlords and managing agents to help them ensure that the tenant’s risk from exposure to legionella from water systems in residential rental property is safely controlled.
Who is responsible?
Where a property is under full management by a professional agent, then clearly the agent has responsibility for meeting these legal requirements. However, where the landlords is managing the property him or herself, then the landlords takes on that responsibility along with all the other legal requirements such as annual gas checks etc.
Clearly, Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) pose a greater risk here and the “responsible person” the person who has the duty to manage the property is obliged to carry out a risk assessment for this risk as well as for general and fire safety under The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006. https://www.landlordzone.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/uksi_20060372_en.pdf
However, landlord or individual buy-to-let properties are also affected by this. Although an individual house our flat generally poses no greater risk for legionella than an owner occupied property, unless there are unusual circumstances, nevertheless there is still a risk which must now be addressed by all landlords and agents.
The guidance specifies annual risk assessments and insists that landlords and agents keep records of these for at least five years.
Landlords and agents should be aware that legionella bacteria can multiply in hot or cold water systems and water storage tanks. The bacteria can be spread via showers and taps, especially if they have not been used for some time. The risk assessments must assess the risk and identify potential sources of exposure, followed by, if necessary, and steps to prevent or control any of the identified risks.
It is usually acceptable for risk assessments to be carried out by agents or landlords but in the first instance landlords may consider having a professional assessment carried out on all their properties, to be followed-up by annual assessments themselves.
A risk assessment involves assessing whether conditions are right for bacteria to flourish. The greatest risk is where water is present at temperatures between 20C and 45C. Stagnant water, in tanks for example, infrequently used outlets, showers and air conditioning units, debris in water systems, and thermostatic mixing valves should checked and corrective action taken where necessary.
The other side of the coin is assessing the vulnerability of people who may be at risk. Landlords and agents need to identify this in their risk assessments.
Tenants who are older than 45 years, smokers and heavy drinkers, those suffering chronic respiratory or kidney disease, and anyone with an impaired immune system is at greater risk of infection.
Safeguards may involve disinfecting water systems, cleaning shower heads, servicing air conditioning units, removing or stagnant water pools and water tanks from systems, insulating pipework, and keeping water cisterns properly covered and free of debris.
Landlords and agents should issue tenants with notices advising them about these risks and how to combat them by running water off and cleaning shower heads regularly.
When landlords and agents advise tenants to raise water temperatures to reduce the risk of legionella, there’s an increased risk of burns and scalding.
It all sound very onerous on landlords or agents but these risk assessment are usually straightforward and not as bad as they seem, though specialists would perhaps have other arguments.
Most small systems only need a risk assessment and no further action required, but having the evidence available that the risk assessment has in fact been carried out is important.
By Tom Entwistle, LandlordZONE®
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©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England and Wales. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.