Landlords warned about the risk of legionella

Landlords warned about the risk of legionella

0:02 AM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago 10

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Landlords often hear about rules and regulations when it comes to energy and electricity but what about water?

Legionella is a bacteria that can be found in water and prove to be fatal with hundreds of cases reported every year in the UK.

This Property118 investigation highlights the risk of the deadly disease and what landlords can do to minimise the risks.

What is legionella?

Legionnaires’ disease is a pneumonia-like illness caused by the legionella bacteria.

According to the British Safety Council, despite 503 confirmed cases of legionnaires’ disease in 2019 (according to Public Health England), research has estimated that between 4,000-6,000 cases of the disease occur every year in the UK.

The NHS England website says the disease is usually caught in places like hotels, hospitals or offices where the bacteria have got into the water supply.

The legionella bacteria can grow in domestic hot and cold-water systems and thrives at temperatures between 20-45°C. The bacteria can be killed by high temperatures at 60°C or above.

Properties that are left empty for a long time also run the risk of legionnaires’ disease.

You can also get legionnaires’ disease from air conditioning systems, humidifiers, hot tubs and taps and showers that are not used often.

The main symptoms of legionnaires’ disease according to NHS England are:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • A high temperature
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • A cough.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) say 70% of the reported cases of legionnaires’ disease are in people over the age of 50.

The WHO says: “Risk factors for community-acquired and travel-associated legionellosis include smoking, a history of heavy drinking, pulmonary-related illness, immuno-suppression, and chronic respiratory or renal illnesses.”

Some people who catch legionnaires’ disease may need to go to hospital. Treatment in hospital for the disease may include:

  • Antibiotics given directly into a vein
  • Oxygen through a face mask or tubes in your nose
  • A machine to help you breathe

Antibiotic treatment usually lasts between 1-3 weeks.

Landlords’ responsibilities for legionella

What are a landlord’s responsibilities when it comes to legionella?

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes it clear that landlords have legal responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of their tenants by keeping the property safe and free from health hazards.

The HSE says since the L8 Code of Practice was published in 2001 there is a requirement for landlords of both domestic and business premises to assess the risks from exposure to legionella to their tenants.

There has been much confusion over whether there is a legal requirement for landlords to do a legionella test in their property.

The HSE clarified that whilst local authorities do not ask for evidence that landlords have undertaken a risk assessment, it is still important to control the risks.

The HSE website says: “If a tenant were to contract legionnaires’ disease from the water system in their home, the landlord may be liable to prosecution under the Health and Safety Work Act and would have to demonstrate to a court that they had fulfilled their legal duty, so it is important that they assess and control the risks.”

Propertymark says: “Landlords must assess and control the risk of exposure of tenants to legionella to ensure the safety of their tenants, but this does not require an in-depth detailed assessment.”

What can landlords do to minimise the risks?

The Health and Safety Executive has made a list to help control the risk of exposure to legionella:

  • Flushing out the water 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)
  • Setting control parameters (eg, setting the temperature of the hot water cylinder (calorifier) to ensure water is stored at 60°C)
  • Make sure any redundant pipework identified is removed.

The agency also says that the risk of legionella is lowered with combi boilers, as the system keeps the water moving – giving the bacteria little chance to develop.

Landlord risk assessment

The NRLA recommends landlords carry out a legionella risk assessment which confirms that the risk of legionnaires’ disease has been checked in the property.

The assessment is straightforward and simple and can usually be carried out by the landlords themselves. It involves:

  • Identifying potential hazards and the level of risk posed
  • Identifying who is at risk
  • Assessing the water system for any risk of legionella bacteria
  • Putting adequate control measures in place to minimise the risk.
  • Reviewing the assessment as needed

The NRLA say the assessment will need to be completed every 12 months or if there is a change to the water system. Members of the organisation can download a form for performing the risk assessment.

A spokesperson for the NRLA told Property118 that whilst the risk of legionnaires’ disease is low in residential properties, it is still important to conduct a risk assessment.

They told us: “Although all landlords and property managers should take the risk of legionnaires’ disease seriously, it should be borne in mind that the risk is extremely low in the majority of modern homes and installations.

“It is still important to conduct a risk assessment of rental properties to identify potential risks and review it regularly.

“Legionella bacteria requires water temperatures of between 20 and 45c to multiply and growth is most common in standing or stagnant water, which is rare in an occupied residential property.”

The spokesperson added that it’s important to check empty properties for legionella bacteria.

They added: “If a property is left empty for an extended period of time, pipes should be flushed through regularly to make sure that water is not left standing in tanks or pipes, potentially increasing the risk of bacterial growth.”

Propertymark says: “Most landlords can assess the risk of legionella themselves and do not need to be professionally trained. However, landlords can arrange for a competent person to carry out the assessment if they wish.”

The organisation says it’s important for landlords to know that health and safety law does NOT require landlords to obtain, produce nor does HSE recognise a ‘legionella test certificate’.

Many organisations run legionella awareness courses to help landlords and letting agents understand the severity of the disease and their legal responsibilities.

Propertymark runs a legionella awareness course which can be completed online.

What your tenant needs to know

The HSE says that tenants should be advised of measures put in place to protect against legionella.

On their website, the HSE say: “Tenants should be advised of any control measures put in place that should be maintained.

“For example, not to adjust the temperature setting of the calorifier and tenants should inform the landlord if the hot water is not heating properly or there are any other problems with the system so that appropriate action can be taken.”

The agency also says tenants need to play their part and should regularly clean showerheads.

“Where showers are installed, these have the means of creating and dispersing water droplets (aerosols) which may be inhaled causing a foreseeable risk of exposure to Legionella.

“If used regularly the risks are reduced but, tenants should be advised to regularly clean and disinfect showerheads.”

Propertymark also recommends that on returning to the property after a period of absence tenants should run all taps for at least two minutes.

Legionella risk remains low in residential properties

While the risk of legionella remains low in residential properties, it is still important for landlords to understand the risks.

It’s also important for empty properties to be checked regularly to minimise the risk of legionnaires’ disease.

There are still hundreds of cases of the disease reported in the UK every year so it’s vital that landlords understand their responsibility when it comes to this potentially deadly infection.

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10:47 AM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago

Less likely a risk if you have a combination boiler. But with a hot water tank system people in a way to save energy are turning the tank stats down to say 40-45C as the logic is why pay to heat water if I just mix it with cold. I see many money saving sites suggesting this and yes it does save energy but there is an increased risk of Legionella.


11:34 AM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago

Reply to the comment left by JaSam at 26/05/2023 - 10:47
Ane even if it is the tenant who turns down the water temperature against all advice, it will be the landlord's fault.

northern landlord

15:19 PM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago

So, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) makes it clear that landlords have legal responsibilities to ensure the health and safety of their tenants by keeping the property safe and free from health hazards. We already have to make sure that the gas and electric are safe but It seems to me that anything that happens to tenants in a landlords’ property is automatically deemed the landlords fault unless the landlord has specifically warned them about it. So now we have to warn them about Legionella as well to cover our rear ends. We are not their parents and they are not our children. Where will it all end? To cover ourselves do we need to, put up notices saying “caution hot water” on the taps like they do on coffee cups? How about notices telling them to use the handrails provided on the stairs, or to wash their hands after using the toilet or not to stick their fingers in plug sockets (which should in any case be clearly labelled “Danger 240V”) or advising them not to dry their pets (which they have without permission) in the microwave, run with scissors, or drink bleach, how about a notice on the front door telling them to wrap up warm and look both ways before crossing the road? The Legionella regulations are not compulsory full of the word “should” rather than “must”. It is assumed that Landlords have responsibility for control of their premises. Surely difficult unless the landlord lives in, shouldn’t tenants shoulder some of the responsibility for keeping themselves safe and healthy themselves?


15:48 PM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago

Reply to the comment left by northern landlord at 26/05/2023 - 15:19
I needed something to make me laugh after the Renters (Reform) Bill.


19:34 PM, 26th May 2023, About 11 months ago

I wonder how many councils and Housing Associations have done this risk assessment.

Judith Wordsworth

10:31 AM, 27th May 2023, About 11 months ago

It's not just the temperature of the water, hot at storage and outlet and cold at outlet, but any shower heads need to be kept free of calcium buildup and dirt ie cleaned regularly by the tenant(s)

Jireh Homes

15:56 PM, 27th May 2023, About 11 months ago

What is never addressed in discussion of Legionella is that at 60 degC there is a scalding risk (particularly with pillar taps). And many immersion cylinders have the water stored at much higher temperatures. But this concern is rarely considered in most risk assessments!


9:39 AM, 6th June 2023, About 10 months ago

What next, will landlords have to clear nettles from a tenants garden in case they get a reaction to a sting.


9:47 AM, 6th June 2023, About 10 months ago

Anyone want a job as the 'groom of the stool'?


16:45 PM, 6th June 2023, About 10 months ago

Reply to the comment left by northern landlord at 26/05/2023 - 15:19
The only link I can find from the HSE is this one:

This says that you only have to keep records of any significant findings if you have five or more employees. I can't see anything else from the HSE anywhere that specifically affects landlords.

However, if water isn't recirculated, if there's a regular flow of clean water through the system and pipe runs are short the risk should be low. Legionella is usually a problem where the infection builds up in humid cooling towers.

I'm not sure what any landlord does if he or she is not on mains water or has a property that uses brown water for anything. Presumably they can't rent the property out.

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