Landlords should take appropriate steps to ensure the health and safety of tenants by keeping rented property safe and free from health hazards, including Legionnaires' Disease. Landlords must conduct a risk assessment of rented property to identify conditions that might support the growth and multiplication of the Legionella bacteria and also maintain ongoing control measures to minimise the risk.
This note provides a brief guide to what Legionella is and what landlords can do it identify and mitigate any risks in their rented property. Further advice is available from the Health & Safety Executive by following the attached link; http://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/
What is Legionnaires' Disease?
Legionnaires' Disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacteria. The infection is contracted by inhaling small droplets of water contaminated by the bacteria which might have multiplied in water systems and storage tanks of residential property. The bacteria survives at low temperatures between 20-45 degrees Celsius and is killed at temperatures above 60 degrees.
In 2018, there were over 500 reported cases of Legionnaires’s disease in England and Wales however, estimates suggest that up to 1.5 million residential properties could be contaminated
Who should undertake an assessment?
There are a number of companies that undertake risk assessments of residential property, however there is no requirement under Health and Safety law for a landlord to provide a Legionnaires testing certificate. A landlord should be able to undertake such assessment themselves providing that they have a sufficient level of competence.
If a landlord intends to undertake an assessment themselves, they should take into account the entire water system to identify any potential sources of contamination. According to the Health and Safety Executive, an assessment should take into account whether;
- the water temperature in all or some parts of the system is between 20–45 °C.
- water is stored or re-circulated as part of your system.
- there are sources of nutrients such as rust, sludge, scale, organic matter and biofilms.
- the conditions are likely to encourage bacteria to multiply.
- it is possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, whether they can be dispersed over a wide area, e.g. showers.
- whether any resident or visitor is more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, a weakened immune system etc and whether they could be exposed to any contaminated water droplets
In general, the risks from hot and cold water systems in most residential settings would be considered as being low owing to regular water usage and turnover. The risk is further lowered where instantaneous water heaters (for example combi boilers and electric showers) are installed because in such instances there is no water storage.
Once an assessment is undertaken, it is important to review it regularly and especially where there are any changes made to the water systems. While there is no legal requirement to document a risk assessment, it is probably prudent to do so.
Control measures – Landlords
Following completion of the risk assessment, landlords should implement ongoing control measures including;
- Ensuring that debris cannot get into the system by making sure that cold water tanks, if installed, have a tight-fitting lid.
- Prior to the start of a new tenancy, run the water systems for a minimum of 2 minutes.
- Ensuring water cannot stagnate anywhere in the system by keeping pipe lengths as short as possible or removing redundant pipework
Control measures - Tenants
Tenants should be advised to undertake control measures including;
- Where a property has not been used for a period (for example during vacations) the water system should be flushed by running all outlets for at least 2 minutes.
- Setting controls so that the hot water is heated to and stored at 60°C
- Regularly clean, descale and disinfect shower heads.
Consequences of non-compliance.
The consequences of non-compliance can be serious. Landlords are legally required to manage properties so as not to expose tenants, residents and visitors to risk. Heavy fines or even imprisonment can be imposed especially if someone were to unfortunately die. Landlords can be prosecuted even if there is an exposure to risk without anyone actually becoming ill.
Important note for landlords – The above blog is provided for information purposes and guidance only and does not represent the full extent of legal obligations and duties placed on landlords. Landlords should seek appropriate advice and, where necessary, legal advice before renting property in the Private Rented Sector. The use of information provided in this blog is subject to the terms and conditions of use of our website.