Buy-to-let landlords and Legionnaires’ disease
Know your responsibilities to stay on the right side of the law
One of a landlord’s responsibilities that often catches out first-time buy-to-let property investors is the obligation to check for Legionnaires’ disease. In this article, you’ll learn about the law covering Legionnaires’ disease and the risk assessment that must be carried out on buy-to-let properties.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia which can be fatal. It is caused by inhalation of droplets of water contaminated with Legionella.
Where is Legionella found?
Legionella can be found in natural water systems such as lakes, rivers, and canals, and man-made water systems, such as in water pipes, tanks, and reservoirs in homes. The bacteria grow in environments which provide the right temperature and offer a food source – food for Legionella bacteria being sludge, rust, biofilm, etc.
It’s important to understand that the perfect conditions for growth can exist in both hot and cold water systems.
Your duty of care towards tenants
There are several laws that dictate the landlord’s responsibilities to ensure that tenants are offered a safe and healthy environment in which to live. These include the:
- Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
- The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
- Approved Code of Practice 2002 L8
These detail that you must not put your tenants at risk of ill health. The regulations include specifically that you must undertake a risk assessment for Legionnaires’ disease and take action to control the bacteria.
What must be done?
While the risks of Legionnaires’ disease are very low in residential properties, risk assessments must be carried out. The risk reduces where:
- Water systems are regularly used, and the water is turned over throughout the water system
- Cold water is supplied by a mains system
- Hot water is fed from low-volume water heaters
- Toilets, baths, showers and sinks are the only water outlets
The risk of Legionnaires’ disease increases if water systems are not used, and water is allowed to rest.
The risk assessment
The risk assessment must include detailing where the risks of Legionnaires’ disease exist within the water system. You will need to provide the tenant with details of any controls that have been put in place and what they must do. For example, you may require the tenant to:
- Regularly clean shower heads
- Not to adjust the temperature of water heaters
- Immediately report if the water system is not heating or cooling properly
You don’t need to keep a record of the Legionnaires’ disease risk assessment, though we would recommend you do. Local authorities don’t inspect for Legionnaires’ disease, but if there is an outbreak in your property you could be prosecuted. If this is the case and you can provide evidence that you have complied with the law, carried out risk assessments, and informed the tenant of their responsibilities, your case will be strong.
Controlling Legionnaires’ disease during void periods
When considering the facts about void periods that all landlords should know, it’s worth adding a Legionnaires’ disease risk assessment to the list. This is when water is most likely to rest and stagnate, and Legionella bacteria are most likely to flourish.
Between tenancies, you should:
- Check water tanks for debris and ensure that covers are adequate
- Drain off water heaters and radiators, and bring them back to working temperature
- Clean shower heads thoroughly
- Service air conditioning systems
- Flush out the water system, opening all taps
Who is responsible – landlord or property manager?
Landlords who run their own properties must conduct risk assessments and control procedures for Legionnaires’ disease. However, where the property is managed by a property manager, this responsibility is assumed by the property manager.
For more information, you can contact us here at Ezytrac on +44 0 1522 503 717 or visit the Health and Safety Executive website pages detailing Legionella and landlords’ responsibilities.
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