Legionella, whats this all about then?

There has been information overload in lettings about legionella and the guidelines from HSE regarding rented properties. Below I have summed up the key facts in a whistle-stop tour that you as a landlord need to know.

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 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 all health hazards. In 2013, 284 people were diagnosed with the infection and the number has steadily risen since.

What is the change in legislation?

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.

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. 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.

What you must do as a landlord

There is a duty to assess the risk from exposure to Legionella to ensure the safety of your tenants, once assessed, there is then a duty to control this risk. However, a simple assessment may show that there are no real risks and any present are being properly managed and no further action is needed.  

Implementing simple, proportionate and appropriate control measures will ensure the risk remains low.  For most domestic hot and cold water systems, temperature is the most reliable way of ensuring the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria is minimised. Here are the top tips;

  • keep the hot water super-hot
  • Keep the cold water very cold
  • flush out the system prior to letting the property
  • avoid getting debris into the system (e.g. ensure the cold-water tanks, where fitted, have a tight-fitting lid)
  • make sure any redundant pipework (dead-legs) are removed. Stagnant water can be a place the bacteria can populate.
  • The risk is further lowered where instantaneous water heaters (for example combi boilers and electric showers) are installed because there is no water storage.

Additional actions for properties left vacant

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 (e.g. student accommodation left empty over the summer vacation).  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.

Who can assess the risk?

In most cases, the actions landlords need to take are simple and straightforward so compliance does not need to be burdensome or costly.  Some landlords can assess the risk themselves but the legislation does require for a landlord to classify themselves as a ‘competent person’, however if you do not feel competent, or inclined to do so, you can arrange for someone do it on your behalf and conduct a full report.

Keeping a record of the assessment and reviewing

Landlords may find it prudent to keep a record of what has been done for their own purposes. Furthermore, the law does not prescribe that the risk assessment be reviewed on an annual or biennial basis however, it is important to review the assessment periodically in case anything changes.

Get in touch if you would like us to arrange a Legionella Risk Assessment on your behalf.

Angharad Trueman - Operations Manager


Posted on Tuesday, 18 April, 2017