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How to protect your tenants from the risks of legionella

Thankfully Legionnaires Disease is still relatively rare, but given it is developed by a bacteria that thrives in warm places like hot water tanks, landlords should be well aware of its potential to harm when letting out their properties.

Health and safety law does not require landlords to produce a legionnaires testing certificate as such, but there is a legal duty to properly assess and control the risk of exposure to the legionella bacteria. So, certificate or not, it's an issue to take very seriously indeed.

So, what is legionella, how and where does it grow, what are the dangers and how, as a landlord, can you ensure you're adequately protecting your tenants from the risks?

What is Legionella?

Legionella is a pathogenic bacteria (one that leads to infection in simple terms) and can cause a pneumonia-like illness such as Legionellosis or Legionnaires' Disease. Symptoms can include breathlessness, coughing, muscle pain, headaches, tiredness and chest pain.

Affecting around 200-300 people in the UK each year, Legionnaires Disease is rare, but thoroughly unpleasant and can cause death.

Where is the bacteria found?

Legionella is most commonly found in man-made water systems, air conditioning units or hot water tanks. Essentially, though, any place where water is maintained at a constant temperature can be a perfect breading ground for the bacteria.

For landlords, it's important to consider water systems as a whole - legionella can thrive in pumps, pipework, shower heads and water tanks, for example.

What are the perfect conditions for Legionella?

The risk of the bacteria developing are heightened by water temperatures between 20-45 degrees Celsius. If droplets or mists from said water are dispersed into the air, or the water has been stored or re-circulated, again the risk increases.

If a water tank is rusty or contains sludge, this is like food for the bacteria and if any of the above conditions are present in your rental property, the prospect of legionella harming your tenants is greatly increased.

So, what do I do?

As outlined above, there is no compliance certificate to declare that your property is safe from legionella, nor are their registers to prove legionella safety.

But landlords should keep a written record of risk assessments carried out at their properties, showing they are aware of the risks and have done all they can to prevent their tenants coming to harm.

How do I perform an assessment?

All man-made water systems in your properties should be inspected and assessed to identify any potential risk of legionella. That includes water tanks, showers and whirlpool baths - if any risk is discovered, control measures can be implemented.

You should record details of who carried out the risk assessment, any significant or concerning findings, control measures that need to be carried out, including timeframes and details of who will be carry out any work, details on the operation of water systems and results of monitoring and inspections, including dates.

OK, I've found an area of concern - what now?

Control measures that can help limit the risk of legionella include flushing out water systems prior to new tenancies beginning - this will ensure stagnant water isn't used by tenants.

If your property, or properties, has been vacant for some time, don't allow water in the systems to stagnate. Visit regularly and use the hot and cold water outlets regularly to keep the water moving through the system.

Try to avoid debris entering your water system by ensuring tanks are sealed tightly and set temperature control parameters.

If the property has redundant pipe work, remove it to avoid the potential for legionella to grow there and request that your tenants regularly clean and disinfect shower heads.

If you have any questions about making sure your property is safe for your tenants, speak to your local Martin & Co office who will be happy to advise and put you in touch with contractors who can help.

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