Philippa Rudd - EDP Property Column. Legionnaires' disease

I am a landlord with several residential properties and one commercial unit. My letting agent recently told me that I might need to have a risk assessment of my properties for Legionnaires’ disease. What are my duties please? Has there been a recent change in the law?

The legal duty for landlords who provide residential accommodation to assess and control the risks of exposure to Legionella to their tenants is not new. This requirement arises from the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1989; Section 3(2) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 makes provision for the legislation to apply to landlords of both business and domestic premises.

Do these rules apply to me?

The Health and Safety Approved Code Of Practice applies to any business where water is stored or used. The code states that the rules apply to buy-to-let properties and also to the commons parts of dwellings. The “duty holder” who is in control of the premises (eg the landlord or employer) should have a risk assessment. Not to do so may breach the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 2002.

Should I ask my letting agent to arrange an assessment? What does this involve?

In most residential settings, a simple assessment may show that the risks are low and no further action may be necessary.

Are there any precautionary measures I should take?

Simple control measures can help control the risk of exposure to legionella, such as:

  • flushing out the system prior to letting the property
  • avoiding debris getting into the system (eg ensure the cold water tanks, where fitted, have a tight fitting lid)
  • make sure any redundant pipework identified is removed

Tenants should be notified of any control measures eg to clean showerheads and to inform the landlord if the hot water is not heating properly. Water should not be allowed to stagnate within the water system. There should be regular checking of dwellings which are empty for long periods (eg student accommodation left empty over the summer holidays).  

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