In the UK health and safety law requires that landlords take responsibility for matters concerning the safety and well-being of their tenants. Part of this responsibility includes conducting a risk assessment and then managing the risk of exposure to Legionella bacteria in rental property. Conducting a legionella risk assessment is a mandatory duty for anyone who wants to rent houses to tenants, this is to safeguard the health of the inhabitants.
It is very important for landlords to keep their properties safe for occupancy and free from form health hazards that can be avoided. For Legionella, this means conducting an assessment of the risks caused by the water systems and putting in place measures to prevent them by controlling the growth and proliferation of dangerous bacteria.
Legionella Risk Assessments
For many well managed flats and houses, there is often very little risk to tenants from Legionella contamination. However, a legionella risk assessment should still be done to ensure that any hazards are identified and measures outlined to control any risks identified. A landlord can take it upon themselves to assess the risk and put in place some measures to minimise that risk. If you are considering doing this here are some important things for a landlord to consider.
- The last time that the water system in the property was used. If the property has been empty for some time without being used, it may present a contamination risk as the water in the system will become stagnant. It is therefore recommended that cold and hot water systems should be generally used, or flushed for a few minutes at least once per week as a minimum. The water systems should also be flushed and drained at times when the property is not in use by any tenant.
- Those properties with water tanks should be very strict with these procedures because stagnant water presents a bigger risk of harboring legionella bacteria than those whose water supplied directly via a mains supply.
- Monitor the water temperature in the building. Legionella will grow well in warm water and thrives optimally at 37oC. To minimise the risk, cold water should run below 20oC whereas hot water should run above 50oC, most preferably at 55 oC to 60oC, although the potential for scalding should be carefully considered at higher temperatures.
- Instantaneous water heaters such as electric showers and combi-boilers can be very useful if you have them in your property. Heating water for use will help deal with the issue of legionella.
- Make sure that all showerheads are cleaned regularly and disinfected as well, to control the risk. Ideally, the circulation and temperature of water in the system should be carefully monitored in the property.
Work closely with legionella specialists and get a risk assessment to guide you on what to do. This is particularly useful when keeping your own records.
Legionella Risk Control
Here is what to do to control the growth and proliferation of Legionella bacteria as a landlord and safeguard both your interests and that of your tenants:
- Make sure that the water system is flushed prior to renting it out or after it has remained vacant for some time.
- Ensure the system is free of dirt and debris by fitting a tight cover over any cold-water storage tanks.
- The temperature settings should always be high enough to curb Legionella growth on all hot water heaters
- All redundant pipes in the system should be removed
Should you feel capable of conducting these tasks yourself, you can proceed and do them on your own. However, the services of a professional legionella specialist can be useful at this point. Again, it is your responsibility to notify your tenants about the Legionella risks and ask them to play their part in curbing this risk. It is sensible for you to advise your tenants to do the following:
- Alert you when the hot water temperature goes below the desired limit or when the hot water system is not functioning well
- Inform you when there is debris found in the water
- Open water outlets that don’t get used regularly and let them flow for several minutes, for instance, taps in guest rooms
- Clean and disinfect their showerheads every six months
- Ensure that the water temperature settings remain at the same level as set – cold water below 20 oC and hot water above 50 oC.
It’s best not just to tell them during a conversation but put it in writing as part of the manual for your rental property, to be used as a reference by the tenants.
For many landlords and property owners, carrying out a legionella risk assessment may not identify serious risks related to Legionella and so there may be no need to take further action. In such a case, it is important to have in place measures of control any risks that are identified.
Remember to do assessment following any changes made to the property or at the beginning of another tenancy. As the landlord, you may not be required to get a water test certificate for legionella but it is a precautionary measure that can help you and your tenants to stay safe at all times.
Your risk assessment for legionella should identify any actions that are needed to help you or your tenants to control the risks from contaminated water and people potentially catching Legionnaires’ disease.