Legionella and Legionnaires’ Disease: Guidance for Landlords

Landlords always have plenty of things on their plate; from gas safety certificates to maintenance and repairs, you’re sure to be kept busy by your properties and tenants.

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And although we’re always reluctant to add anything else to your list, there’s something else you definitely need to be thinking about: Legionnaires’ disease. 

Never heard of it? Then keep reading to find out everything you need to know. 

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a type of bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease, a pneumonia-like illness which – in severe cases – can be fatal. The infection occurs when you breathe in droplets of water that have been contaminated by Legionella. Luckily, the disease cannot be passed from person to person. 

While Legionella is found in the natural world, the real issues tend to begin when it’s found in domestic water systems. The bacteria survive at low temperatures, multiplying at temperatures between 20-45 degrees.

The risk of contamination with Legionella is more likely if:

  • Your water tanks and systems contain stagnant water 
  • The water temperatures are optimal for Legionella (20-45 degrees) 
  • Your appliances have rust or limescale
  • Your property is left uninhabited for a long period of time. 

What happens if you or your tenant get Legionnaires’ disease?

Legionnaires’ disease can get pretty serious if left untreated. 

If you do get infected, you’re likely to develop symptoms including a high fever, cough, headaches, difficulty breathing and nausea. It can also lead to diarrhoea and vomiting. Symptoms tend to last between 2 and 10 days and need to be treated with antibiotics. 

You’ll be particularly susceptible to Legionnaires’ if you are male, older than 50, have issues with your lungs or have a compromised immune system. 

What can I do to protect myself and my tenants from Legionnaires’ disease?

A picture of a bacteria

It’s stated in the law that a landlord must make sure that all tenants are protected from the risks of Legionella. 

As a landlord, you must conduct a Legionella risk assessment and then take action with any necessary measures in order to reduce the risk. However, it’s not a legal requirement that you produce a Legionella water sample test certificate. 

As you have a duty of care to your tenants, if a tenant does contract Legionnaires’ disease in your property, you may be liable for prosecution under the HSWA (Health and Safety at Work Act).

You can carry out the assessment yourself if you feel confident enough, but you can also get a professional to do it. 

In order to conduct the safety test, you need to take a digital temperature reading of every hot and cold tap in the property, and a reading of any pipes connected to water tanks. You must also visually inspect every tap and showerhead, redundant pipework, hoses and water tanks. Any outside taps must also be tested.

There are ways you can reduce the risk of Legionella developing:

  • Flush out the water system before the property is put up for rent. 
  • Make sure that systems and tanks are properly fitted to ensure no debris enters the tank.
  • Ensure that you set some relevant controls. For example, make sure all water is stored at 60 degrees.
  • Remove any pointless or faulty pipework. 
  • Advise tenants to regularly clean the shower head and taps. 

Protecting yourself and your tenants

It’s important that you put certain measures in place to protect both you and your tenants from Legionella. 

If you’re ever in any doubt, then make sure to consult with a professional; the possible consequences of Legionnaires’ disease definitely aren’t worth taking any risks.

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