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Legionella and landlords: What you need to know

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a bacterium that can cause a range of health problems, the most serious being Legionnaires’ disease, as well as the similar but less serious conditions of Pontiac fever and Lochgoilhead fever. Legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia and everyone is susceptible to infection. The risk increases with age but some people are at higher risk including:

·         people over 45 years of age

·         smokers and heavy drinkers

·         people suffering from chronic respiratory or kidney disease

·         diabetes, lung and heart disease

·         anyone with an impaired immune system

(HSE Gov)

How can you contract Legionella?

Legionella can be contracted through the inhalation of small droplets of contaminated water containing Legionella, not from person to person. All man-made hot and cold water systems are likely to provide an environment where Legionella can grow.

The bacteria will colonise both large and small systems so both require risks to be managed effectively.

What are the real risks?

The risks from hot and cold water systems in most residential settings are generally considered to be low because of regular water usage and turnover.

 A typical ‘low risk’ example would be a small building with small domestic-type water systems, where there is daily water usage, cold water is directly from a wholesome mains supply (no stored water tanks), hot water is fed from instantaneous heaters or low volume water heaters (supplying outlets at 50 °C) and where the only outlets are toilets and wash hand basins.

Implementing simple 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.

 Other simple control measures to help control the risk of exposure to Legionella include:


·         flushing out the system prior to letting the property

·         avoiding debris getting into the system (eg ensure the cold water tanks, where fitted, have a tight fitting lid)

·         setting control parameters (eg setting the temperature of the hot water cylinder (calorifier) to ensure water is stored at 60°C)

·         make sure any redundant pipework identified is removed.

·         The risk is further lowered where instantaneous water heaters (for example combi boilers and electric showers) are installed because there is no water storage.

·         Ensure properties that are left unoccupied for long periods of time are subject to a flushing regime or other measures to alleviate the risk of the bacteria that potentially could be present in the water system.


The Law with Landlords & Legionella

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, however this does not require an in-depth, detailed assessment.

A simple assessment may show that there are no real risks and everything is being properly managed, therefore, no further action is needed, though it is important to review the assessment in case anything changes in the system.

Assessing the risks

Most landlords can assess the risk themselves and do not need to be professionally trained or accredited; but if they do not feel competent, or inclined to do so, they can arrange for someone who is to do it on their behalf. 

Landlords are not necessarily required to record the findings of the assessment (this is only a statutory duty for employers where there are five or more employees), but they may find it sensible to keep a record of what has been done for their own purposes.

Landlords will need to review the assessment periodically, especially if there are any changes to the system. We have also prepared a straight forward review form. To obtain this click here.

What your tenant needs to know

Tenants should be advised of any control measures put in place that should be maintained e.g. not to adjust the temperature setting of the calorifier, to regularly clean showerheads and tenants should inform the landlord if the hot water is not heating properly or there are any other problems with the system so that appropriate action can be taken. 

Are domestic properties proactively inspected?

HSE and Local Authority inspectors do not proactively inspect domestic premises or ask for evidence that landlords have undertaken a risk assessment. However, if a tenant were to contract Legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home, the landlord may be liable to prosecution under HSWA, and would have to demonstrate to a court that they had fulfilled their legal duty, so it is important that they assess and control the risks

If you have any questions or require any clarification then please call our office.

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