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Legionella and landlords' responsibilities

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What is Legionella?

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella. All man-made hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow.

The law and you

The law is clear that if you are a landlord and rent out your property (or even a room within your own home) then you have legal responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of your tenant by keeping the property safe and free from health hazards.

Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) It shall be the duty of every self-employed person to conduct his undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that he and other persons (not being his employees) who may be affected thereby are not thereby exposed to risks to their health or safety.

Landlords, under Section 53 of HSWA are regarded as being self-employed and tenants fall into the class of ‘other persons (not being his employees)’.

Who is responsible?

Where a property is under full management by a professional agent, then the agent has responsibility for meeting these legal requirements. However, where the landlord is managing the property himself, then the landlord takes on that responsibility.

Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO’s) pose a greater risk and the ‘responsible person’ is obliges to carry out a risk assessment for this risk as well as for general and fire safety.

Testing (or sampling) the water system

Testing or sampling for Legionella is not usually required for domestic hot and cold water systems, but only in very specific circumstances. Health and safety law does not require landlords to obtain or produce a ‘Legionella test certificate’.

Assessing the Risk

HSE guidelines specify for annual risk assessments and insist that landlords and agents keep records of these for at least five years. 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.

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 takes for example, infrequently used outlets, showers and air conditioning units, debris in water systems, and thermostatic mixing valves should be checked an corrective action taken where necessary.