Have you carried out checks for Legionnaires’ disease?

For many landlords legionella is often overlooked as a potential risk in their property, but it is a serious issue that should be addressed. As a landlord there are obligations that you are required, by law, to uphold, some of which include minimising the risk of legionella in your property and protecting your tenants.

What can you do as a landlord to prevent the development of legionella?


What is legionella?

Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease. Legionella bacteria is commonly found in water systems, lakes and rivers where the temperature is suitable to encourage bacteria growth.

The NHS define Legionnaires’ disease as a lung infection that is caught by inhaling droplets of bacteria contaminated water from infected sources such as air conditioning units, water storage units or hot tubs.

While relatively uncommon, Legionnaires’ disease is very serious if contracted and in some cases, if left untreated, it can be fatal.

Landlords should be particularly concerned about legionella developing in hot or cold water systems and water storage tanks. Landlords are required to take precautions to prevent the development of legionella and the potential infection of tenants in their property.

Common areas of concern are:

  • Toilets
  • Taps
  • Showers
  • Hot tubs
  • Air conditioning systems

Man-made hot and cold water systems are also likely to provide the perfect environment for the development of the bacteria. The size of the system also doesn’t prevent the build-up of legionella and so no matter the size of the system landlords must still service all systems regularly.


What are the symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease?

If your tenants complain of symptoms such as;

  • A persistent bad cough
  • Inability to breathe
  • Experience chest pain
  • Have a high temperature, or
  • Feel flu like

They could be experiencing symptoms of the disease and should seek immediate medical assistance. In this instance landlords must ensure that the property is investigated and measures are taken to remove current and prevent further risks to tenants.

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Legionnaires and the law – what are landlords liable for?

As a landlord the law is very clear regarding your obligations. You must ensure the health and safety of your tenant(s) by making sure that the property is safe and health hazard free. Under general health and safety law, as defined by Health and Safety Executive (HSE), as a landlord, you need to take suitable precautions to prevent or control the risk of exposure to legionella.

There are multiple acts with which landlords must comply under the HSE. This includes, but is not exclusive to;

  • Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
  • L8 Approved Code of Practice(ACOP)

Landlords should carry out a property risk assessment to identify the risks of legionella within the property. In addition to identifying potential risks you must also take appropriate measures to mitigate the development of the bacteria in the first place.

“The actions landlords need to take are simple and straightforward so compliance does not need to be burdensome or costly.

Most landlords can assess the risk themselves and do not need to be professionally trained or accredited; but if they do not feel competent, or inclined to do so, they can arrange for someone who is to do it on their behalf”.


– Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

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How can you mitigate the risk of legionella?

In order to mitigate any risks for the development of legionella in a property landlords should carry out regular property checks and a property risk assessment to identify potential areas of concern.

The HSE suggest that for most ‘domestic’ hot and cold water systems the best way to minimise the risk of exposure to legionella bacteria is linked to temperature. For these systems you should ‘keep the hot water hot, cold water cold and also ensure that you keep it moving’.

Other methods that landlords can use to control the risk of tenants becoming exposed include:

  • Ensuring that water systems are thoroughly ‘run-off’/flushed out if the property has stood vacant for a significant period of time. This should be done for all taps in the property
  • Identifying any water pipes that are no longer in use and remove or drain them completely
  • Ensuring that water tanks are adequately contained and covered
  • Checking water tanks for any debris
  • Making sure to check water heaters in the property regularly. Drain them off before running them up to their working temperature
  • Before tenants move into the property make sure to clean showers, shower units and shower heads thoroughly before running them at their full temperature
  • Set control parameters to ensure that water is stored at a consistent temperature (e.g. a hot water cylinder set to store water at 60°C)
  • Make sure that air conditioning systems are maintained and in good working order. It is best practice to service these appliances regularly
  • Combi boilers and electric showers can help to further reduce the risk as they do not store water
  • Making sure that you also check the garden. Stagnant water can build up in pools and hot tubs which can harbour the bacteria. These should be checked and maintained regularly.

Landlords should advise and make tenants aware of any control measures put in place to stop the development of legionella within the property. In the event that tenants are concerned over legionella within the property they should also be advised to contact the landlord as soon as possible.

You can read more about Legionella and landlords’ responsibilities at the HSE website.

You can also find out more information on your additional obligations as a landlord in ‘Legislation for landlords: Everything you need to know‘.

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