Legionella and your property: a guide

In this handy guide, we look at Legionella as a disease and how landlords are responsible for their risk management of it within rented properties.

What is Legionella?

Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia caused by the inhalation of Legionella found within small droplets of contaminated water. All man-made hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow. Where good conditions exist for the disease, including a suitable temperature, presence of water droplets or water stored and the potential for some ‘food’ for the organism to grow such as rust, sludge, scale to name a few, then the bacteria may multiply thus increasing the risk of exposure.

Your responsibilities under the law (taken from the HSE Website)

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) makes provision for relevant health and safety legislation to apply to landlords to ensure a duty of care is shown to their tenants’ with regard to their health and safety. The general duties require under section 3(2) that “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)”. If you rent out a property, you have legal responsibilities to ensure you conduct your undertaking in such a way that your tenant(s) are not exposed to health and safety risks.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) provides a framework of actions to control the risk from a range of hazardous substances, including biological agents (eg Legionella) – to identify and assess the risk, and implement any necessary measures to control any risk.

There has been no change to UK legislation. Since the L8 Approved Code of Practice (3rd edition) (ACOP) was published in 2001, there has been a requirement for landlords of both domestic and business premises to assess the risks from exposure to Legionella to their tenants.

L8 Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) was revised and republished in November 2013 and retained the guidance on the requirements of HSWA and COSHH for employers AND those with responsibilities for the control of premises including landlords (L8 ACOP, paragraphs 1 and 2). It applies to the control of Legionella bacteria in any undertaking involving a work activity AND applies to premises controlled in connection with a trade, business or other undertaking where water is used or stored and there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria (L8 ACOP, paragraph 22).

What you must do as a landlord or homeowner with rooms let

The first thing you can do is a straightforward risk assessment which itself may show there are no risks and/or the water system is under regular review and maintenance. Having this on file will not only demonstrate that you’ve thought about the risk but it will also satisfy show recognition that you’re trying to minimise exposure to the disease.

For most domestic hot and cold water systems, by keeping hot water hot and cold water cold and flowing, this is the most reliable way of ensuring the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria is minimised. Other simple control measures to help control the risk of exposure to Legionella include:

  • Make sure any old or unused pipes/drains etc are removed from the property and network.
  • Consider doing a whole system flush, prior to letting the property out.
  • Ensure that debris can’t get into the hot water system
  • Consider setting control parameters and outlining these to the tenant for hot water temperatures.

If the property doesn’t have one, consider a combi boiler, which further eradicates the risk by keeping the water flowing.

For Unoccupied Properties

It is important that water is not allowed to stagnate within the water system and so there should be careful management of properties left vacant for extended periods. As a general principle, outlets on hot and cold water systems should be used at least once a week to maintain a degree of water flow and minimise the chances of stagnation.

To find out more visit the HSE website which has a fact-sheet on legionella here: https://www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/legionella-landlords-responsibilities.htm