Being a landlord comes with many responsibilities and legal obligations, although what these are will depend on if you are a residential or commercial landlord. An area of care that seems to be unclear for many residential landlords is around the prevention of the legionella bacteria. Here we outline the key points that residential landlords need to be aware when it comes to checking water and preventing a possible legionnaires outbreak.
What is Legionella?
According to the NHS website, “Legionnaires’ disease is a lung infection you can catch by inhaling droplets of water from things like air conditioning, water tanks or hot tubs. It’s uncommon but can be very serious”.
Who is counted as a landlord?
If you own a property and let it out either via a lease or licence under 7 years, then you will be counted in law as a landlord. The definition of a ‘landlord’ includes local authorities, housing associations, private residential owners etc.
What is your legal obligation?
The Health & Safety Executive website states: “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”. As a landlord: “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”. There has been no change to UK legislation since the L8 Approved Code of Practice was published in 2001. Therefore it has been a requirement for landlords of both domestic and business premises to assess the risks from exposure to legionella to their tenants.
So what does a residential landlord have to do?
If you own more than one property, or have periods where the property is left vacant, e.g. student accommodation. It is wise to have these properties risk assessed by a professional company to protect yourself and your tenants. Whilst the Local Authority and HSE inspectors don’t proactively inspect domestic premises or ask for evidence that landlords have undertaken a risk assessment, if a tenant did contract Legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home, the landlord may be liable to prosecution under HSWA. Therefore, implementing simple, proportionate and appropriate control measures will ensure this risk of an outbreak is minimal.
For the majority of domestic hot and cold water systems, temperature is the most reliable way of ensuring the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria is low. By keeping the hot water hot – over 40oC – and all water systems flowing regularly, you will minimise the risks. If your property is vacant for a long period of time, as a general rule it’s best practice to turn the taps on at least once a week to maintain water flow and minimise the chances of stagnation which is where the legionella bacteria thrives.