Letting agents and landlords are obliged by law to carry out risk assessments for legionnaire’s disease, and if necessary, take action.
These guidelines apply primarily to England. Other regions and jurisdictions are similar but there may be important differences. This is not a definitive interpretation of the law, every case is different and only a court can decide. If in doubt seek expert advice.
What is Legionnaires Disease?
Legionnaires is a pneumonia like illness caused by the Legionella bacteria, which can be fatal. Legionella bacteria are widespread in rivers, lakes and water systems where the temperature of the water is such as to encourage growth of the bacteria, e.g. a hot water system. People can catch the disease by inhaling small droplets of water which may be suspended in the air and contain the bacteria. Stored and recirculated water is a particular risk.
The Health and Safety Executive have produced two guides following an Approved Code of Practice:
- Legionnaires’ disease: a brief guide for duty holders
- Legionaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems
These documents spell out the legal requirements for landlords and managing agents to help them ensure that the tenant’s risk from exposure to legionella from water systems in residential rental property is safely controlled.
What can I do?
The guidance specifies annual risk assessments and insists that landlords and agents keep records of these for at least five years.
Landlords and agents should be aware that legionella bacteria can multiply in hot or cold water systems and water storage tanks. The bacteria can be spread via showers and taps, especially if they have not been used for some time. The risk assessments must assess the risk and identify potential sources of exposure, followed by, if necessary, and steps to prevent or control any of the identified risks.
Who is responsible?
Where a property is under full management by a professional agent, then clearly the agent has responsibility for meeting these legal requirements. However, where the landlords is managing the property him or herself, then the landlords takes on that responsibility along with all the other legal requirements such as annual gas checks etc.
Clearly, Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) pose a greater risk here and the “responsible person” the person who has the duty to manage the property is obliged to carry out a risk assessment for this risk as well as for general and fire safety under The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006.
However, landlord or individual buy-to-let properties are also affected by this. Although an individual house our flat generally poses no greater risk for legionella than an owner occupied property, unless there are unusual circumstances, nevertheless there is still a risk which must now be addressed by all landlords and agents.