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Landlords and Legionnaires

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Wed 10 Jun 2015

Landlords and Legionnaires

Last year the Health and Safety Executive released a revised Approved Code of Practice: Legionaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems, which specifically relates to landlords of rented properties.

Our office has seen an increase in questions relating to the disease, it seems that unfortunately many agents and consultants are scaremongering landlords for financial gain. There is a legal obligation to carry out an assessment but this should be a straightforward exercise in ordinary domestic properties and a landlord can carry it out himself so long as they feel competent.

So what is Legionnaires’ disease? It is a type of pneumonia which can be fatal. Those most susceptible to the disease are the elderly and individuals with respiratory problems. It is caused by the Legionella bacteria which can be found in water systems such as those used in houses.

The disease is transferred to individuals through water droplets from the infected systems being inhaled by the individual. This risk is increased if there is a suitable temperature for the bacteria to grow (between 20-45 degrees Celsius), a source of nutrients (such as rust, scale or other organic matter) and a way in which droplets of water can be spread (e.g. through a tap).

It is considered that the generally high usage and low volume of water held in residential water systems will reduce the likelihood of Legionella bacteria reaching dangerous levels, it is still necessary for landlords to carry out a risk assessment to determine whether there are any potential sources of exposure for occupants. The landlord can employ the services of a specialist company to carry out the risk assessment. However, should the landlord wish to carry the risk assessment out himself, the process is likely to include:

Ensuring that water cannot stagnate in the system (i.e. by removing disused pipe work and by running taps in unoccupied rooms);

 Keeping cisterns clean and insulated;

Insulating pipe work;

Advising tenants about the risks and the steps that they can take to reduce the risk of exposure to the bacteria, especially after periods of non-use.

 The dangers posed by Legionnaires’ disease are potentially life threatening, and it is therefore vitally important that landlords know about the conditions ideal for bacteria growth and how these circumstances can be prevented. Landlords should also ensure that risk assessments are carried out on a regular basis to reduce the likelihood of exposure to the disease.

 To obtain additional information

Health and Safety law does not require landlords to produce a ‘Legionnaires testing certificate'. Legionella testing is required only in exceptional circumstances and generally not in domestic hot and cold water systems. Such letting agents and consultants are scaremongering landlords, for financial gain, by misinterpreting and exaggerating the legal requirements to manage and control legionella in domestic premises.

 Normally there is no reason why the landlord should not carry out this risk assessment himself/herself so long as they are competent. Usually there will be no need to employ a consultant. The assessment should be a straight forward exercise in ordinary domestic premises.

For most residential settings the risk assessment may well show the risks are low. This will apply to houses or flats with small domestic type water systems where the water turnover is high. Provided the risk assessment shows that the risks are insignificant and the control measures are being properly managed no further action would be necessary. It is important, however, to keep the assessment under review periodically in case anything changes to the system. It is adviseable to keep a record of your assessment.

If in any doubt over the legislation please seek independent legal advice.