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  • Lisamarie Lamb

Landlords and Legionella

If you are a landlord, you have a duty of care to your tenants. That means you need to ensure they are kept safe, so it is vital that you understand what potential dangers might be lurking in your property that could affect your tenants’ health. Some of these issues are going to be obvious, but you also need to be on the lookout for the less obvious, including legionella; it could be – and probably is – in your property.

What Is Legionnaires’ Disease?

Not everyone knows exactly what legionnaires’ disease is, and that’s okay – not everyone needs to know what it is, other than understanding it’s a condition that can be fatal. However, if you are a landlord, you should know more about it than that, especially since it could negatively affect your tenants.

In essence, legionnaires’ disease is a potentially fatal type of pneumonia which is caused by legionella bacteria. Legionella is found in water – both naturally occurring water such as lakes and ponds, and domestic water systems – and when that water is stored at between 20oC and 50oC, that bacteria can grow and breed and become dangerous.

Who Is At Risk?

Although anyone can contract legionnaires’ disease, some people are more at risk than others. The elderly, the very young, and those who have a compromised immune system (particularly if they have lung diseases) are much more likely to become infected than anyone else.

This should not mean that a landlord doesn’t carry out the checks and assessments they should do if their tenants don’t fall within the vulnerable category, but it is worth bearing in mind.

How Is Legionnaires’ Disease Contracted?

The good thing about legionnaires’ disease is that you cannot catch it from another person. You can’t catch it from drinking water containing the bacteria either. The bad news is that you can catch legionnaires’ disease by breathing in droplets of water that contain legionella. This means that showers, hoses, taps that spray, whirlpools and spas, air conditioners, and similar items are a big risk. The domestic cold water storage tank is the perfect breeding ground for legionella thanks to the average temperature and the fact that water can quickly stagnate within it.

In commercial properties, you’ll also need to think about cooling towers, but for landlords of domestic properties, this shouldn’t be an issue.

What Can Landlords Do To Limit The Risk?

The truth is that your domestic property probably does have legionella bacteria within its water system, at least in very small quantities. Those quantities might not even register through testing as the quantities are far too small to notice. Estimates are that around 1.5 million properties in the UK do have legionella bacteria in it.

The first thing that is required is a legionella risk assessment. Understanding and knowing exactly what the risk points are in your property will help you to develop a plan of attack, should you need one.

Depending on what the risk assessment throws up, your next job will be to check the cold water storage tank – assuming you have one. If your property has no tank and the water is all directly from the mains, there is much less risk of legionella since you don’t have any stored water. If you do have a tank, you need to make sure it is the right size. A tank that is too big won’t have enough turnover of water. But remember not to change your tank to one that is too small – although you’ll reduce the risk of legionella, you’ll also annoy your tenants because they’ll constantly be running out of water.

The tank should also be clean. In commercial buildings, an annual clean and chlorination of the cold water storage tank is advised, but this is not necessary in domestic dwellings. Simply check the tank and ensure it is in a good state. If it needs to be cleaned you can arrange this on an ‘as and when’ basis.

You should also pay close attention to anything that sprays an aerosol into the air. Showers are the obvious place to look, but if any of your taps are particularly forceful, they might spray too. You can change the taps to make them less of a danger; this is a quick, easy, and inexpensive job that will reduce the risk of legionella within your property immediately. The shower is less easy to deal with, as your tenants are unlikely to want you to remove it (which would eliminate the risk). Making sure the showerhead is cleaned regularly (you can even add this to your tenancy agreement) is one way to reduce the risk. However, since it is unlikely that the shower will go unused for a long period of time in a domestic dwelling, and since it will either take water from the mains or from the accurately sized cold water storage tank, the risk is small.

Getting Help

The risk assessment for legionella is the most important element of the process. Once this is done, you can show that you have done your duty of care – that you have looked into the risks of legionella bacteria and reduced or eliminated them where need be.

It is possible to carry out the required risk assessment yourself if you feel confident to do so. If you’re not sure what steps to take or what to be looking for, please get in touch with Assured Water Hygiene – we can give you advice and carry out the assessment if required.

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