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Legionella risk, one aspect of letting that many landlords never think about...


Landlords (and their agents) have a serious responsibility to undertake actions to protect tenants, visitors and passers-by, preventing Legionella bacteria from causing a health hazard. This dangerous bacteria can lie undetected in a property's water systems. What's more, it can lead to deadly Legionnaires' disease if inhaled.

Legionnaires' disease is a pneumonia-like illness which can be and has been fatal.The landlord's (and agents) responsibility to their tenants and others is their legal duty to ensure that their properties remain safe from all hazards. Residential or commercial properties are affected by this because with modern complicated water systems there is an increased risk of the presence of Legionella bacteria.

The bacteria will typically be found in dirty and poorly maintained water systems and in particular where water lies stagnant for long periods in water tanks and pipes, plumbing systems, air conditioning, even decorative fountains, saunas and hot tubs. Spray points like showers, sprinklers, where water droplets are formed are particularly at risk.

Void periods

When water is left to stand for long periods of time, for example during void periods between tenancies, landlords should be aware that special precautions are needed. According to the World Health Organisation, the bacteria live and grow in water systems at temperatures of 20 to 50 degrees Celsius where there is no regular flow.A simple precaution is to run-off all water from tanks, cylinders and taps in the rental property weekly and always before a new tenant takes up occupation.

Risk Assessment of Legionella

Letting agents and landlords are obliged by law to carry out checks for legionnaires disease between tenancies, and if necessary, take action. A written risk assessment is the best way to show that this has been done.

These guidelines apply primarily to England. Other regions and jurisdictions are similar but there may be important differences. This article is not a definitive interpretation of the law, every case is different and only a court can decide. If in doubt, seek expert advice.

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 as well as the landlord - responsibility may be shared. However, where the landlord is managing the property him or herself, then the landlord takes on that full responsibility, along with all the other legal requirements for health and safety such as annual gas checks etc.

Clearly, Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) pose a greater risk and the 'responsible person' the person who has the duty to manage the property is obliged to carry out a risk assessment for Legionella risk, as well as for general and fire safety under The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006

However, landlords of single buy-to-let properties are also affected by Legionella checks. 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 for HMOs specifies annual risk assessments and insists that landlords and agents keep records of these for at least five years.

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.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 assessment must assess the risk and identify potential sources of exposure, followed by, if necessary, steps necessary to prevent or control any of the identified risks.It is acceptable for risk assessments to be carried out by a reasonably competent person, usually the agent or landlord and it is not normally considered necessary to have a professional assessment carried out.

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 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 obviously an increased risk of burns and scalding.It all sound very onerous on landlords or agents but these risk assessments are usually straightforward and not as difficult as they may at first seem, though specialists sometimes 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.The Health and Safety Executive have produced two guides following an Approved Code of Practice:

1 - Legionnaires' disease: a brief guide for duty holders -

2 - Legionnaires' disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems.

These documents spell out the legal requirements for landlords and managing agents. This is to help them reduce the risk of exposure to legionella bacteria from water systems in residential rental property.

Main areas of Risk which require your attention between tenancies:

  1. Thoroughly run-off the water system (all taps) especially if the property has been vacant for some time
  2. Check any water tanks for debris and make sure the tank has a good cover
  3. Check for any dead-runs of water pipe, for a example a washing machine supply or garden hose supply pipe that is no longer in use. Remove the dead run or at least drain it off
  4. Check water heaters. Drain them off and bring them up to working temperature
  5. Thoroughly clean shower heads and run them off at full temperature
  6. Service air conditioning systems regularly
  7. Check outside pools and spas for stagnant water and sprays. Have these serviced regularly.

Leveraging IoT to Minimise Legionella Risk for Landlords

One neat solution being suggested for landlords and their agents is provided by connectivity specialists Glide UK.

For those properties, homes or commercial buildings, where water systems may lay dormant for long periods, where water is not being flushed through regularly, landlords must find reliable ways to ensure the water systems are safe.

The solution, according to Glide UK, lies in the Internet of Things (IoT). The Internet of Things (IoT) is the term used to describes the network of physical objects, 'things' that have sensors embedded in them that are connected to the internet.

As these devices are increasing adopted in modern systems, remote and effortless control over the internet becomes increasingly feasible. Sean Lowry, CTO of Glide, says that through the use of IoT devices, landlords can effortlessly monitor and control their water systems across all properties, and significantly reduce the risk of legionella within their properties.

Mr Lowry says that: 'by deploying clamp sensors for hot and cold water pipes, the right solution can detect both lack of flow and water temperature. When legionella risk rises, landlords are automatically notified to flush relevant systems.

'The role that technology plays in tracking and analysing IoT sensor data, to enable smarter decision-making for landlords, while also providing a historical paper trail for compliance purposes' The important role that a high-speed and stable internet connection plays in enabling landlords to leverage IoT devices to create automated and seamless monitoring for their properties.'

If you have any questions about any of the issues discussed here, post your question to the LandlordZONE Forums these are the busiest Rental Property Forums in the UK ' you will have an answer in no time at all.


Health & Safety