Legionella Risk Assessments Demystified: What Landlords Should Know

Thursday, May 25th, 2023

Legionella risk assessments: what you need to know.

As a landlord, what are your responsibilities in terms of assessing the legionella risk in your rental property?

All landlords are legally required to make sure their property complies with current UK health and safety laws. This includes assessing legionella risk to ensure a property’s water supply is safe for tenants and visitors.

Assessing legionella risk is part of ensuring nothing on your property could potentially cause harm or lead to illness. This responsibility is outlined by the Health and Safety Executive and based on legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.

What do landlords need to do?

Whilst assessing legionella risk is a legal requirement, current UK law doesn’t define what a legionella risk assessment involves. The Health and Safety Executive states landlords should use ‘practical and proportionate’ methods to assess risk.

In a standard domestic buy-to-let property in Hitchin with a simple water system, the legionella risk is likely lower than in a larger property with a complex system.

Using a ‘practical and proportionate’ approach, some landlords with lower-risk standard domestic rental properties opt to undertake their legionella assessments. However, others do choose to use a qualified legionella assessor. Landlords of larger properties with complex water systems use qualified risk assessors experienced in evaluating risks and testing the water supply.

How to conduct the legionella risk assessment

Whether you’re conducting a risk assessment yourself or employing a risk assessor in a standard domestic rental property, the following aspects of a water system should be considered:

  • Hot and cold water systems
  • Water tanks
  • Water heaters

Risks for legionella include:

  • Water temperature – legionella bacteria thrive in temperatures between 20-45°
  • Debris in the system – such as rust, algae, sludge, etc.
  • Stagnant water – redundant pipework can allow water to stagnate.
  • Unoccupancy – if a property is unoccupied or water use is particularly low, water is not moving through the system, causing stagnation.
  • Water tanks – must be insulated and sealed to stop vermin/debris from entering the system.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, as risks will vary depending on a specific property’s water system. If you opt to conduct your own assessment, you’ll need to demonstrate competency in thoroughly researching all possible risks that could apply to your situation.

Examples of mitigation 

The HSE suggests that proportionate and appropriate mitigation measures for landlords renting properties with standard domestic hot and cold-water systems include:

  • Controlling the temperature to keep cold water cold and hot water hot.
  • Keeping water moving through the system.
  • Setting control parameters (e.g. setting the temperature of the hot water cylinder (calorifier) to store water at +60°C).
  • Flushing out the system before letting the property.
  • Removing any redundant pipework from the system.

Once your risk assessment is complete, you should have an up-to-date document to keep on file that details:

  • Who is at risk
  • Any potential hazards and the level of risk
  • Implementation of suitable risk mitigation
  • The assessment findings
  • Future review dates

Do I need a legionella test certificate? 

You are not legally required to obtain a formal test certificate from a professional legionella risk assessor.

But… whether you complete the assessment yourself or use a qualified assessor – keeping a formal record of every assessment is a good idea.

When do I need to assess for legionella?

Legionella risk assessments should be repeated every two years, at the start of a new tenancy, or if there’s any change to a property’s water system. This is the type of paperwork and ongoing maintenance we keep on top of for landlords via our full Property Management Service.

Why does it matter?

Breathing in tiny water droplets containing legionella bacteria can cause Legionnaires’ disease. The following symptoms characterise this disease:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea

For older people or those with low immune function or a pre-existing lung condition, Legionnaires’ disease can be very serious, as it can lead to pneumonia, respiratory failure, and acute kidney and multi-organ failure. So, it’s not a risk to be taken lightly.

Questions about landlord compliance.

Managing legionella risk is just one of the legal responsibilities landlords must meet. Keeping on top of these responsibilities – especially as a new landlord or if you have multiple properties can be quite a task.

If you’re a landlord with a buy-to-let property in Hitchin or the surrounding Hertfordshire area and you’d like to check that your paperwork is in line with the current legal responsibilities, drop us a line. From regular gas and electrical safety inspections to EPC (energy performance ratings) and fire/carbon monoxide alarm requirements – we deal with landlord compliance day-in-day-out as part of our Property Management Service.  So, we’ll be very happy to have an informal chat about any questions you might have.

M A S O N S is a leading letting agent in Hitchin, covering rental and buy-to-let properties in Hertfordshire. Founded on award-winning lettings experience, we specialise in property management, buy-to-let in Hitchin, and residential lettings – drop us a line at 01462 557 477 or [email protected]