Protecting tenants from the risk of Legionnaires ’ disease is something that private landlords have always had a duty to do, although it seems there are many that are not aware of the extent of their obligations.
It is important for letting agents to educate their landlords on their legionella-related responsibilities. The issue has taken on significant profile in recent times after an update from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in November 2013 caused some confusion in the property industry.
The upshot of the updated and simplified Approved Code of Practice (ACOP) 'Legionnaires' disease: The control of bacteria in water systems L8', is that it was just confirming landlords’ responsibilities rather than introducing any new ones. However that doesn’t make it any less vital…
To many, Legionnaires’ disease may sound like a problem of the past. That is far from the reality as there are still around 300-400 cases reported in the UK each year. The disease, which is formed from Legionella bacteria, manifests itself as a type of pneumonia. It is transmitted by inhalation of water or soil contaminated by Legionella bacteria.
The bacteria thrive in stagnant water heated at between 20°C and 40°C (the bacteria is dormant at under 20°C and does not survive above 60°C). Rental properties are considered to have an increased risk of Legionella bacteria developing. Refurbishments where pipes have been sealed and void periods where the residence is vacant for several weeks at a time are just two of the reasons why water supply systems could become stagnant.
This is where a property owner’s responsibility becomes apparent, so what do you need to do to make sure your landlords are appropriately educated? Well, for a start, landlords need to know that it is their legal duty to ensure risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria is assessed and controlled.
If they haven’t done so already, the landlord can hire a health and safety firm to carry out an assessment. These can cost anything from £85 to £300, and the cost is likely to depend on the size of the property and the amount of water outlets it contains.
If a landlord has any concerns after this, the best course of action is to contact the HSE and always refer to its guidance as gospel. That being said, there are some things landlords can do themselves to help reduce the risk their tenants face.
They can manually check systems for stagnant water and keep detailed records of any assessments that have been carried out.
Landlords can also reduce the risk of Legionella forming by disinfecting water systems; insulating pipework and covering water cisterns.
What’s more, it can be beneficial to periodically run through taps, pipes and showers to keep water moving – something that tenants can also help with. Landlords can also frequently clean showerheads and taps to remove limescale and algae.
This is clearly a very important safety issue and while it is imperative that agents make sure landlords are up to speed with what they need to know, it can also be a great way for a letting agent to showcase their knowledge and reinforce their expertise to their portfolio of landlords.
The information above is by no means exhaustive. There are comprehensive guidelines that you can pass on to your landlords courtesy of the HSE: