Legionella Risk: Landlord checks you need to know

What is a legionella risk assessment?

A legionella risk assessment is a test that you can carry out on the water systems in your property to test for Legionnaires disease.

Legionnaires disease is an infection of the lungs, a form of extreme pneumonia, which is often contracted though inhaling infected droplets of water. Whilst uncommon it can be very serious, and for the elderly, young children, or those suffering with prior health conditions it can even be fatal. Symptoms include a bad cough, severe chest pains, feeling feverish with a high temperature, and flu-like symptoms. The bacteria, which is found in infected water, can land a victim in hospital, requiring heavy antibiotics treatment for up to three weeks.

What is the prime location for the bacteria?

A hot or cold water system can provide a perfect a host ground for Legionella bacteria, who need an optimal temperature of between 20°C and 45°C and ‘food’ (rust, sludge, biofilm) in which to thrive. The bacteria dies at temperatures over 60°C.

Any size system is able to play host to these critters, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you don’t have huge lengths of pipework and massive water tanks, your property is immune.

Is it a legal requirement to have a legionella risk assessment?

It is not a legal requirement to carry out a specific test for legionnaires disease – the HSE does not recognise a Legionella Test Certificate, and landlords are not required to have one.

However, a landlord does have a few legal requirements surrounding these pesky bacteria that they must abide by in order to keep on the right side of letting laws.

Duties are placed on landlords under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA), the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations 2002.

Specifically, Section 3(2) of the HSWA 1974 states “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 the HSWA 1974, are regarded as being self-employed and tenants, residents and visitors fall into the class of “other persons (not being his employees)”. Landlords may also be regarded as ‘persons having control of premises’ as described in Section 4. These duties include carrying out a risk assessment (or arranging for someone else to do so) to assess for conditions that can encourage the spread of Legionella, and subsequently mitigating or controlling such conditions.

There are legislative requirements with regards to general water supplied to a rental property too. A landlord has a responsibility under the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) to keep the supply of water (and gas/electric) in good repair at the property. You can read more about your general landlord responsibilities here.

Who can perform a risk assessment for legionella?

You can.

There are plenty of organisations that will carry out the test for you if you are not feeling confident about doing it yourself. But do make sure that they provide you with clear documentation about what they have done, and when they did it. This forms your paper trail of evidence, so should you ever have to prove that you carried out due diligence in looking after the water systems in your property, you have documents to prove everything that you did.

How do you do it?

The assessment is relatively simple, but it is good practice to make sure that results and procedures are documented to prove what has been done, and when.

You should make sure that you note down:

  • Who is carrying out the assessment, and what steps they are taking to complete it.
  • Any significant findings.
  • The dates in which the check is carried out, and any further actions needed (and subsequent dates of action).

It is a good idea to carry out the basic test at the start of every new tenancy, and during periodic inspections. If you are scheduled to attend your property for gas safety checks or for maintenance visits, it’s a great idea to see if you can schedule a test in at the same time.

All you need to do to carry out the assessment is:

  • Identify whether any water is stored or re-circulated as part of the system (particular areas of risk include water tanks, rarely used shower heads and long runs of pipe work that contain warm water.
  • Identify whether the water temperature in some or all parts of the system is between 20°C – 45°C, with any ho water being stored in tanks at over 60°C .
  • Are there any ‘food sources’ available within the water system, such as rust, sludge or biofilms. These could be present if a tank lid is ill-fitting, for example.  
  • Is it possible for water droplets to be produced and, if so, whether they could be dispersed – showers and air-conditioning units are among the worst offenders.
  • Identify whether there are there any parts of the water system that are used infrequently. Guest bathrooms or air-conditioning units that are not used during winter months, for example.
  • Identify whether any of your tenants or their regular visitors more at risk due to age, health or lifestyle, and could they be exposed to any contaminated water.

You can download a guide to carrying out the risk assessment here.

How can you prevent legionella risk?

As well as carrying out regular risk assessments, there are ways in which you can help prevent the risk of legionella in your property in the first place with a few simple steps.

Key steps you can take include:

  • Avoid water temperatures that aid the growth of legionella bacteria
  • Remove lengths of redundant pipework and keep your system as short as possible, giving water less space to stagnate within internal pipework.
  • Make sure water systems are kept moving, and encourage your tenants to utilise all water sources in the property – water left in a guest showerhead can be a perfect breeding ground!
  • Flush the entire systems prior to letting the property. Make sure you run all taps and showers for a short while, to run all stagnant water through the system.
  • Ensure all standing water tanks are well sealed and no external matter is able to enter the system.
  • If you are installing a new water system, consider instant water heater options, such as combi-boilers and electric showers over water storage solutions.