HMO tenant with contagious illness – can landlord be liable?

by Readers Question

4 years ago

HMO tenant with contagious illness – can landlord be liable?

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HMO tenant with contagious illness – can landlord be liable?

I have recently been told that a resident in a HMO has got Hepatitis. HMO tenant with contagious illness - can landlord be liable?

As they share kitchen, bathroom, and general living space with other residents, should the landlord breach confidentiality and inform other residents?

What should a landlord do in such circumstances?

Can the landlord be liable if another resident (or a maintenance contractor) catches the disease?

Thoughts appreciated.

Regards

Robert Mellors

Comments

Mark Alexander

4 years ago

Great question Robert, I don't know the answer so I have also posted a link to this thread on the HMO Facebook group which is another excellent resource for HMO landlords - see >>> https://www.facebook.com/groups/housesofmultipleoccupancy/829660893720063/?notif_t=group_comment
.

Mandy Thomson

4 years ago

I'm assuming that this person has hepatitis A (infectious hepatitis) and not just an inflamed liver caused by something such as an autoimmune disease (e.g. primary sclerosing cholongitis, billiary cholongitis or common or garden old alcoholic liver disease)?

There is a SMALL chance that hepatitis A can be spread in shared living situations, by people who have the infection not washing their hands then handling food, kitchen surfaces where food is prepared or shared utensils.

Hepatitis B and C are contagious too but are normally only caught by intimate contact such as sharing needles or sexual intercourse.

I don't have experience of running an HMO, so I would be inclined to call Environmental Health and ask them. However, from what I can see, an HMO landlord's responsibility in this respect doesn't go beyond ensuring the facilities provided meet with HMO guidance - e.g. sealed, smooth easy to clean worktops, plenty of refrigeration & cool food storage, plenty of washing facilities and hygienic waste disposal etc.

Hepatitis A is neither a notifiable disease nor highly contagious.

If I were living in an HMO, with people I didn't know that well, I would be particularly careful about hygiene, as I'm sure the vast majority of people who live in them are.

Having said that though, it might be an idea to leave some leaflets on food safety and general infection control around, provide plenty of disposable disinfectant wipes in the kitchen, and remind tenants about washing hands and food hygiene.

Robert Mellors

4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Mandy Thomson" at "16/08/2014 - 11:10":

Hi Mandy

I'm not certain what strain of Hepatitis it is, but they said it is the worst sort and is terminal, so I am presuming it is Hepatitis B. The person is a former intravenous drug user. Their GP (and other professionals) will know of their condition so should have notified whoever they need to notify, but as a landlord who do I need to notify or what actions do I need to take?

Of course the HMO has proper worktops, and hand washing facilities, etc, but that does not mean that all residents are scrupulously careful about hygiene and there is nothing stopping people using the toilet then going and handling food, cooking implements, crockery, etc, which other residents then use.

Mandy Thomson

4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Robert Mellors" at "16/08/2014 - 11:27":

Hi Robert,

I certainly didn't mean in any way to suggest you're anything less than an extremely conscious and caring landlord!

If it's hepatitis B, in order for someone else to catch it, they would have to either share needles or have sexual contact with the infected person (or a transfusion of their blood) - if anyone does, that is surely their choice as a consenting adult. The chances of spreading it through normal day to day living in shared accommodation are extremely remote, if non existent!

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-b/pages/introduction.aspx

Even if it WAS hepatitis A, the more contagious type, it's not that common in the UK, it isn't normally serious and the chances of passing it on through normal day to day interactions are small, and practically non existent if he and the others he lives take common sense hygiene precautions such as hand washing, ensuring kitchen surfaces are wiped with disinfectant and not sharing cooking utensils without washing them first.

http://www.patient.co.uk/health/hepatitis-a-leaflet

Look at it this way, couldn't you or I catch it by touching a tap, a door handle etc in a public place, say a restaurant or a pub, then going straight to the table and touching food without washing or disinfecting our hands in the interim? If it were THAT contagious, there would surely be many more incidents of hepatitis A!

From what you've said, I believe that disclosing this to the other tenants would on balance do more harm than good - you could be making him a pariah in his own home, when the poor man already has enough to deal with after fighting drug addiction then contracting a fatal illness.

To put your mind at rest, I would phone the environmental health department at your local council - you don't need to tell them who you are, you could simply say you have a relative living in an HMO and someone has the disease and you're concerned. I'm sure they've been asked this question plenty of times before!

Don't worry and good luck!

Robert Mellors

4 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Mandy Thomson" at "16/08/2014 - 13:24":

Hi Mandy

Thank you for your sensible advice. I think it can be caught through everyday interactions, (rather than just sharing needles or having unprotected sex), BUT the probability is quite low. However, I will contact the Council's environmental health unit just to cover myself legally, and check if there is any advice they would give on the matter.

Mandy Thomson

4 years ago

You're welcome, Robert - I'm sure it will turn out OK.

There's a lot of misinformation and even hysteria around about liver disease, sufferers are often unfairly stigmatised - even by the medical profession!

I once had a good friend who had a liver disease that was eventually diagnosed as primary sclerosing cholangitis - the same disease that contributed to the death of the tennis player Elena Baltacha. Both Elena and my friend were unfairly accused of being closet alcoholics prior to their diagnosis - by liver specialists!

To anyone who has any concerns about any form of liver disease (and there are many, many different forms as well as causes), the British Liver Trust is a really good source of information: http://www.britishlivertrust.org.uk/

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