Don’t fall foul of the law and put your tenants at risk
Making sure that your electrical appliances have been PAT tested and that the property has a landlord gas safety certificate are regulations that you’ve probably heard of and accepted as being part of your landlord duties. However, when you started out as a buy-to-let landlord, you probably didn’t expect to be reading about prevention of diseases.
As a buy-to-let landlord, you are in control of your investment property. You’re in charge. You’re responsible. That means you have a legal obligation to understand and manage the risks of Legionnaires’ disease.
In this post, you’ll learn about Legionnaires’ disease, and your responsibilities to take preventative measures that keep your tenants safe from contracting it.
What is Legionnaires’ disease?
Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia caused by a bacteria (Legionella) infection. Symptoms may include a high fever, chills, muscle fatigue, headaches and diarrhoea. In the worst cases, it can be fatal, and the greatest number of fatalities caused by Legionnaires’ are in the very young and the elderly. Thankfully it’s not very common in the UK, but the high death rates associated with the disease mean it is high on the radar of preventable infectious diseases.
In 2014, there were 331 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the UK. 85% of these cases were individuals aged 50 years or over. The fatality rate was 7.6 deaths per 100 people diagnosed with Legionnaires’.
What causes Legionnaires’ disease?
The Legionella bacteria can cause the disease. These breed in stagnant water.
Buy-to-let properties are considered areas of risk because of a variety of factors. You can often find Legionella bacteria in disused pipes, water tanks, and shower heads. Rental properties suffer void periods, where water is not flushed continually through the system. Empty properties are ideal breeding grounds for Legionella bacteria.
Most at risk are older properties. And those owned by buy-to-let property investors as houses of multiple occupations.
Buy-to-let landlords responsibilities for Legionnaires’ disease
Buy-to-let landlords take precautions to prevent the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. You are responsible for the following:
- Identifying and assessing any sources of risk
- Managing those risks
- Preventing and controlling risks
- Maintaining records of risks and actions taken
Identifying and evaluating any sources of risk
It is possible to carry out a Legionnaires’ risk assessment yourself, but we’d advise having an independent professional do it on your behalf. As a buy-to-let landlord, you can delegate the responsibility to your property manager.
You need to understand how the property’s water system works – pumps, tanks, pipes, heat exchangers, etc. – and identify which parts create a risk of Legionella. Conditions that increase risks include:
- A water temperature between 20⁰ to 45⁰C
- Stored or circulated water system
- Formation of water droplets (e.g. Showers, Taps, and air-conditioning)
- The presence of nutrients such as rust, sludge, and organic matter
When assessing the risks, you should record who is responsible for maintaining the water system, and what training they have. The risk assessment should identify potential hazard sources and th actions taken to mitigate those risks. It’s important to put in place:
- Monitoring, inspection, and maintenance procedures
- A method to record the results of monitoring and any inspections and checks made
- Regular reviews
Your risk assessment is only complete when you consider there’s no danger.
Managing the risk of Legionnaires’ as a buy-to-let landlord
You should make someone responsible for controlling the risk of Legionnaires’ disease. Someone considered knowledgeable and competent, with the ability to manage the risks. It might be yourself, your property manager, or a third-party contractor. The ultimate responsibility always rests with you, the buy-to-let landlord.
Prevention and control of Legionnaires’ disease risks
Prevention of the dangers of Legionnaires’ disease rests on the water system used. Ancient systems are at most risk. Modern systems reduce risk (though not entirely eliminated). For buy-to-let landlords, the key is to maintain and operate the water system so that it prevents or controls the growth of the Legionella bacteria. Controls include Controlling dripping taps and water sprays
- Avoiding temperatures conducive to bacteria growth
- Removing potential areas of where water can stagnate
- Keep the system clean
We’d suggest that landlords keep records of all your actions with regards to your responsibilities towards Legionnaires’ disease. Hopefully, you’ll never have the need to use them, but they will provide evidence that:
- You have put in place risk assessment and monitoring procedures
- A suitable person is responsible for conducting risk assessment
- Conduct regular evaluations and controls
Keep these records for at least two years, and records of inspections carried out for at least five years.
Don’t get yourself into hot water
One way to help control the growth of Legionella bacteria is to make sure the water temperature isn’t in the range of 20⁰C to 45⁰C. However, if your hot water is too hot, it increases the risk of scalding (risks increase above 44⁰C). It applies in particular for old and very young residents in your buy-to-let property. It is a legal requirement to have temperature controls in place. You can consider having a thermostatic mixing valve to stop water flowing at more than 44⁰C.
Contact us by phone (+44 1522 503 717) or use our online contact form for more information about prevention and control of Legionnaires’ disease, and how we help our clients to comply with the law, hassle-free.
Yours in effortless property management,
Brett Alegre-Wood MARLA MNAEA