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Landlord or Tenant: Who is responsible for legionella risk assessment?


While it’s agreed that tenants are routinely tasked with a number of box ticking exercises prior to moving into a landlord-governed property, when it comes to dotting the ‘i’s’ and crossing the ‘t’s’ with direct regards to legionella risk assessments, the law of the land clearly states that landlords who rent out properties (extended to individuals who simply rent out a single room in their own home, for the record) are legally responsible to oversee the health and safety of tenants residing in their accommodation. Be it domestic (private sector landlords), business premises, local authorities, housing associations/co-operatives or hostels – occupied under a contract, lease or license - it’s worth pointing out. Existing UK legislation highlighting this legal position hasn’t been subject to any revisions since the L8 Approved Code of Practice (3rd Edition) ACOP was ratified and subsequently published back in 2001, which ultimately outlined the landlords’ requirement to carry out legionella risk assessments to negate the risk of exposure of the bacteria to their tenants.

(Want to know what is involved in carrying out a legionella risk assessment  yourself? Find out here.)

Essentially any premises whereby water is facilitated and/or stored (specifically purpose-built water heating or cooling systems) – and therein, if subject to adverse circumstances/conditions could, potentially manifest a risk of residents/employees coming into contact with legionella in one form or another - falls under the control and management of the building’s landlord, according to the HSE. Although the duty might be delegated to other employed individuals (managing agents, for example) at the bequest of the landlord, the buck – for want of a better word - stops with the latter.

So, Just How is This Actioned/Worked in Real Terms?

Well, this is sometimes where landlords could become neglectful of their duties, in terms of what’s generally perceived as both practical and proportionate applications of current health and safety laws. For instance, despite the abovementioned legal responsibility for the carrying out of legionella risk assessments at domestic rental properties being the obligation of the landlord, by its very definition it doesn’t necessarily stipulate the performing of a far-reaching, detail-laden scrutiny and subsequent summary. In as much as the risks from hot and cold water systems in most residential settings are generally considered to be nominal, on account of the habitual water usage and turnover. Judged on the presumption that – and providing the property hasn’t stood empty for a while – any stored water hasn’t been left unturned (system-wise) for a significant passage of time, and that, effectively, more compact, domestic-type water system housing units (as traditionally discovered in small, privately rented properties) experience daily consumption.

Or to put it another way, a ‘low risk’ scenario presents whereby cold water is accessed directly from a wholesome mains supply (no stored water tanks), and where hot water is fed from instantaneous heaters or low volume water heaters (supplying outlets at 50 °C). And more pertinently, where the only outlets are toilets and wash hand basins; thus drastically minimising any latent legionella threat. Without question, any legionella risk is diminished where instantaneous water heaters (think along the lines of combi boilers and electric showers) are installed, due to no water storage requirement.

But be this as it may, that’s not to say that a simple legionella risk assessment carried out by a landlord isn’t vitally important in the eyes of in-coming tenants, keen to have peace of mind from the outset of any arrangement/contractual agreement going forward. As while the typical high demand/turn-over of rented accommodation in the domestic sector here in the UK never seemingly relents, there will be occasions when a building may stand empty for a period; and where water systems aren’t being facilitated day in and day out. Plus, at the end of the day, a simple assessment to determine the presence of legionella bacteria – and hopefully prove beyond any doubt that there are no real risks/confirmation that a property is being managed properly/ascertain that no further action is needed, is a priceless service to offer. And that a continual and timely review – in case anything in the system changes – is equally important.

Are There Any Additional Measures Landlords Can Take to Eliminate Threat of Legionella?

Of course, there are additional methods by which landlords can reduce the possibility of legionella taking root in their properties before, during and after routine risk assessments, none of which require much time, effort or indeed, money invested, nevermind demand any structural revisions as such to create a safer immediate environment for tenants. These commonly include flushing out the system prior to letting the property, avoiding debris getting into the system (best actioned by ensuring the cold water tanks, where fitted, have a tight-fitting lid), setting control parameters (i.e., setting the temperature of the hot water cylinder (calorifier) to ensure water is stored at 60°C) and making sure that any noticeably redundant pipework is both identified and removed thereafter.

Want further guidance on carrying out water hygiene monitoring tasks in-house? Check out of guide, link below:

download our free guide to in-house water hygiene monitoring


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