Last year the Health and Safety Executive released a revised Approved Code of Practice: Legionaires’ disease: The control of legionella bacteria in water systems. There was a lot of discussion in the industry about whether this is a responsibility that should be placed firmly on a landlord’s shoulders. And then things went very quiet. That is until recently.
Our advice line has seen an increase in questions relating to the disease, what the landlord is responsible for and how this impacts the agent.
So what is Legionnaires’ disease? It is a type of pneumonia which can be fatal. Those most susceptible to the disease are the elderly and individuals with respiratory problems. It is caused by the Legionella bacteria which can be found in water systems such as those used in houses.

The disease is transferred to individuals through water droplets from the infected systems being inhaled by the individual. This risk is increased if there is a suitable temperature for the bacteria to grow (between 20-45 degrees Celsius), a source of nutrients (such as rust, scale or other organic matter) and a way in which droplets of water can be spread (e.g. through a tap).

It is considered that the generally high usage and low volume of water held in residential water systems will reduce the likelihood of Legionella bacteria reaching dangerous levels, it is still necessary for landlords to carry out a risk assessment to determine whether there are any potential sources of exposure for occupants. The landlord can employ the services of a specialist company to carry out the risk assessment. However, should the landlord wish to carry the risk assessment out himself, the process is likely to include:

Ensuring that water cannot stagnate in the system (i.e. by removing disused pipe work and by running taps in unoccupied rooms);
Keeping cisterns clean and insulated;
Insulating pipe work;
Advising maintenance staff about the risks and how they can be avoided; and
Advising tenants about the risks and the steps that they can take to reduce the risk of exposure to the bacteria, especially after periods of non-use.

Is this responsibility passed on to the letting agent? As with all statutory obligations, the agent must make the landlord aware of his responsibilities and providing the landlord with written confirmation of within the terms and conditions of business will suffice.

The dangers posed by Legionnaires’ disease are potentially life threatening, and it is therefore vitally important that landlords know about the conditions ideal for bacteria growth and how these circumstances can be prevented. Landlords should also ensure that thorough risk assessments are carried out on a regular basis into the likelihood of exposure to the disease.

To obtain additional information