Landlord Legal responsibilities for Legionella Risk assessments

One of the many legal responsibilities that landlords and letting agents have is ensuring that their properties are free of the Legionella bacteria, which can cause health problems to more vulnerable tenants or to any member of the public that may visit the property.

Landlords who provide residential accommodation have a legal duty to ensure that the risk of exposure of tenants to legionella is properly assessed and controlled.

Although the responsibilities around Legionella and preventing it spreading from water systems to tenants’ lungs are some of the vaguest in the private rented sector. This is a quick guide to clarify the responsibilities of the duty holder around Legionella and how it affects landlords, agents and tenants alike. In it we’ll cover:

What is Legionnaires’ Disease

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia — lung inflammation usually caused by infection. It’s caused by a bacterium known as legionella.

Most people catch Legionnaires’ disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Older adults, smokers and people with weakened immune systems are particularly susceptible to Legionnaires’ disease.

The legionella bacterium also causes Pontiac fever, a milder illness resembling the flu. Pontiac fever usually clears on its own, but untreated Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal.

What is Legionella?

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila (legionella) is responsible for most cases of Legionnaires’ disease. Outdoors, legionella bacteria survive in soil and water, but rarely cause infections. However, legionella bacteria is more prevalent in man-made water systems, including domestic showers systems, garden water systems including hose pipes, internal water pipes, water tanks, air conditioning systems etc. which means it could be present in any property.

Legionella’s ideal conditions for breeding and multiplying are as follows:

  • Water Temperature i.e. cold water above 20 degrees and hot water below 50 degrees
  • Water droplets produced and dispersed i.e. through showers, spray connections, hot tubs, hose sprinkler systems
  • Water stored before recirculation, often referred to as stagnant water i.e. in a system which isn’t used for a period of time weeks, typically 2 or more weeks
  • A stagnant environment for the bacteria to feed on i.e. slime, rust, sludge, etc.

Is a Legionella Risk Assessment a legal requirement?

Landlords are legally bound to keep their properties free from health hazards. The law forms part of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and imposes a legal duty on all managing agents and landlords to ensure the health and safety of all tenants, staff and members of the public are protected.

According to the Health and Safety Executive:

“The practical and proportionate application of health and safety law to landlords of domestic rental properties is that whilst there is a duty to assess the risk from exposure to Legionella to ensure the safety of their tenants, this does not require an in-depth, detailed assessment.”

http:/www.hse.gov.uk/legionnaires/legionella-landlords-responsibilities.htm

The cost of a legionella risk assessment for landlord who fail to assess their property is covered in Section 17 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 which states:

“If anyone is alleged to have breached any criminal offence under this act or the regulations, and they failed to adhere to the approved code of practise, that criminal offence shall be deemed to be committed”

ACoP provides guidelines on how to comply with the law and it holds a special legal status in the UK as it is legally binding. ACoP 8 covers legionella risk assessment guidelines.

Do I legally need to Test a Residential Property?

COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regs) and ACOP L8 have been in place for many years.  Law has not changed, but in the past the regulations related to non-domestic premises restricted to water systems of over 300 Litres.

Residential properties were exempt but research by HSE indicated legionella was as high in residential as it is in commercial and as a result, a new ACoPL8 (HSG274 Part 2), was introduced in April 2014 to include all residential property

The three main Legionella Risk Factors:

  • Redundant Pipework
  • Infected Water Storage Tanks
  • Lukewarm water temperature

As a landlord or agent what should I be doing?

Section 28, Health and Safety at Work Act 1974:

“A risk assessment must be carried out to identify and assess the exposure to legionella bacteria from water systems on the premises and any precautionary measures needed. The duty holder is responsible for ensuring the risk assessment is carried out”

ACoP L8 clarifies how the hazardous substance applies to legionella in a domestic environment. The duty holder applies in the same way as the gas regulations. The landlord or managing agent is responsible for ensuring the risk assessment is carried out.

What do you need to do to comply?

Section 2.138 (HSG274 part 2) states:

Landlords who provide residential accommodation have a legal duty to ensure that the risk of exposure of tenants to legionella is properly assessed and controlled.

The duty holder must:

  • Assess – carry out a legionella risk assessment by a competent person who is trained under ACoP L8
  • Remove or control identified risks
  • Manage the risks on an ongoing basis
  • Keep records
  • Review the assessment and controls regularly

The risk assessment process?

In most properties, avoiding the breeding of the Legionella is easy enough as long the hot water is kept hot, the cold water is kept cold, and the water is kept moving round the system. Realistically, there is most likely to be a problem if the property has been unoccupied for several months before a new tenancy starts, so it is in these cases where you should be most cautious and ensure you carry out sufficient checks to satisfy yourself that Legionella isn’t present in the property. The frequency of a risk assessment should be no longer than every couple of years. Older systems should be checked more often or if a property has been empty for an extended period, typically longer than 3-4 weeks they should be re assessed.

What do tenants need to know about legionnaires?

Tenants need to be confident that the property they are moving into is legally compliant and safe. That you as a duty holder, whether a landlord or property agent, have completed the relevant due diligence checks.

Who can carry out a risk assessment?

Risk assessments in between tenancies are a good idea and can be carried out by a competent person (i.e. not necessarily somebody professionally accredited), but you need to know what you are looking for and what you are doing.

If you haven’t the time to investigate and learn the requirements or able to visit your property, No Letting Go provide a guaranteed national service. If you would like one of our qualified inspectors to complete an inspection report for any of your properties, then please contact us for availability.

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