Residential Rental Properties – a Landlord’s responsibilities

The HSE Approved Code of Practice (L8) advises that 'organisations or individuals’, who provide residential accommodation or who are responsible for the water system(s) in their premises, are required to ensure that the risk of exposure to legionella in those premises is properly controlled.

Thus, landlords of residential accommodation have responsibilities for their tenants in this area.

What is the Landlord’s responsibility?

As a landlord controlling premises you need to decide if there are water installations or systems on the premises which may give rise to a risk of Legionella bacteria being present.

You may delegate this task to a managing agent but it remains your responsibility to ensure it is carried out.

Is a full Risk Assessment necessary?

Where the initial assessment demonstrates that there is no reasonably foreseeable risk, or that risks are insignificant, are unlikely to increase and are properly managed, then no further assessment is needed.

However, you are still required to put appropriate control measures in place, to minimise the risk of your tenants being exposed to the bacteria. You must bear in mind that some of them may be particularly vulnerable to infection.

Who is vulnerable to infection?

Anyone with a weakened immune system, through age or illness or certain medical treatments, is regarded as being in the ‘vulnerable’ category. People suffering from medical conditions that affect the heart and lungs, asthma for example, are also vulnerable.

As you will probably not be aware if your tenants fall in to any of these categories, then it is prudent to assume that they do and put monitoring procedures in place, to ensure that no legionella bacteria are present in the property’s water system.

What happens if the landlord does not carry out his/her obligations?

The consequences can be serious. As a landlord you are legally required to manage properties, so as not to expose tenants, residents and visitors to risk. Heavy fines can be imposed if you fail to do so and if someone was unfortunate enough to die from Legionnaires’ disease contracted at your property, you could even face imprisonment

What does the landlord need to do?

Make sure you or your letting agent put regular monitoring in place. The easiest way to do this is to test the water system on a regular basis, at least every year, to ensure there are no bacteria present. You should be especially vigilant if your property has been left empty for any length of time, between lettings for example.

Who are ‘at risk’?

Not only the elderly are at risk of contracting the disease. Anyone who has a weakened immune system, due to health problems or deliberate suppression, following organ transplantation, for example, is at high risk. Also, people suffering from heart or lung problems, such as asthma, are very vulnerable.

You will probably not be aware if any of the people in a building fall in to the ‘at risk’ categories for contracting Legionnaires’ Disease. Thus, it is safer to assume that some do and test the water system for the presence of the legionella bacteria on a regular basis.