If you rent out a property, one of your landlord responsibilities is ensuring the water systems are safe. One of the greatest threats to water safety is the Legionella bacteria which can lead to Legionnaires’ disease if it infects someone. In this article, we look at what Legionella is, your legal responsibilities, and the practical measures you can take to ensure water systems don’t get infected.
- What is Legionella?
- Are there any risks with Legionnaires’ disease?
- Is a Legionella risk assessment a legal requirement?
- Who can carry out a Legionella risk assessment?
- What does an assessment for Legionella risk by a landlord entail?
- How frequently should I schedule a Legionella risk assessment within a rental property?
- What is the typical duration of a Legionella risk assessment for landlords?
- What steps can landlords take to reduce Legionella risks?
- Will my insurance cover me if Legionella is found within one of my rentals?
Legionella is a type of bacteria that can cause a serious respiratory illness known as Legionnaires’ disease. The bacteria are named after an outbreak in 1976 among people attending a convention of the American Legion in Philadelphia. Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia.
Legionella bacteria are commonly found in natural water sources, such as lakes and streams, but they can also multiply in man-made water systems. Hot water tanks, plumbing systems and air conditioning systems are all examples of environments where Legionella can thrive. The bacteria are transmitted to humans through inhalation of contaminated water droplets, typically in the form of aerosols generated by devices like showers, air conditioning units, or misting systems.
Preventing Legionella infections involves maintaining proper hygiene and water management practices in buildings. Regular cleaning, disinfection, and water system maintenance can help reduce the risk of Legionella contamination.
Legionnaires’ disease can pose serious health risks. The severity of the illness can range from mild respiratory symptoms to severe pneumonia. The disease can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly, smokers, and people with weakened immune systems or underlying health conditions. Some individuals may experience lingering health issues even after recovering from the illness. Fatigue and neurological symptoms have also been reported in some cases.
Yes, landlords in the UK are required to undertake a Legionella risk assessment under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2022 (COSHH).
You are not required to have a risk assessment conducted by a professional and it’s acceptable to do it yourself. However, for peace of mind, many landlords choose to have this inspection completed by a professional. Compared to many other costs of being a landlord, these are relatively inexpensive and will provide you with a detailed report on the property’s water systems.
The Health & Safety Executive publishes guidance on how to conduct a simple Legionella risk assessment. Essentially you need to:
- Identify any possible hazards and the level of risk they pose
- Identify who is at risk (i.e. your tenants)
- Put control measures in place
- Record your findings
- Review your assessment regularly
The main drawback of doing a risk assessment yourself is that you can’t easily test the water system for the presence of Legionella bacteria. If you get a professional risk assessment, you can ask for the water to be tested. This should give you confirmation that the water systems are safe.
The law doesn’t require you to review your risk assessment annually, but it’s a good idea to check the water systems at the same time as the mandatory gas safety check or during other routine maintenance visits.
It’s also worth noting that the risk of Legionella increases if a property remains empty for some time. This is because there is no turnover in the water systems, making it easier for Legionella bacteria to multiply. If your property is unoccupied for some time, it’s normally a good idea to conduct a fresh inspection before a tenant moves in.
The duration of a Legionella risk assessment will vary depending on the number and complexity of the water systems in your property. If you arrange a professional risk assessment, it typically takes between 30 minutes and an hour. Among other things, the assessor will inspect all taps and showers, check for redundant pipework, examine any water tanks, and take digital temperature readings of all taps. They can also take samples of water which they can send for testing.
The HSE recommends some simple steps landlords can take to reduce the risk of Legionella. These include:
- Flushing out water systems before letting the property
- Making sure debris doesn’t get into water systems (such as by fitting a lid to cold water tanks)
- Setting control parameters (such as ensuring that hot water is stored at a minimum of 60°C)
- Ensuring redundant pipework is removed
In addition, you should advise your tenants of the control measures they should undertake. These might include asking they don’t adjust the temperature hot water is stored at, to clean showerheads regularly and to report any problems with the water systems.
If your property is empty, there will normally be conditions on your insurance that you must visit regularly. These visits are a good opportunity to run the taps to make sure there is a turnover of water in the system. Regular water flow reduces the risk of stagnation and thus makes it more difficult for Legionella bacteria to multiply.
Most landlord building insurance policies do not cover Legionella. However, if you have a policy with Alan Boswell Group we can provide this cover for an additional premium.
If you are a landlord, it’s important to undertake regular Legionella risk assessments and use practical measures to prevent the bacteria from taking hold of your water systems. Doing so can not only save lives but also protect you from being fined for risking your tenants’ safety.
This article is intended as a guide only. Please note that legislation does change, it is always best to check the most up to date guidance on gov.uk. Most landlord insurance policies arranged by Alan Boswell Group also have access to a legal advice helpline where policyholders can seek further advice.