What You Need to Know About Legionella Checks

Legionella Pneumophila Bacteria
Added on June 24th 2022

Landlords in the UK have an obligation to protect their tenants. The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (2002) state that you have a legal responsibility to keep your rental property free from potential health hazards.

One such hazard is legionella, but you might not know much about it or how to minimise the risk of it affecting your tenants.

What is legionella?

Legionella is a bacterium which can thrive in water when the temperature is between 20C and 45C and when there’s a suitable nutrient substrate such as limescale and sludge.

Legionella bacteria can multiply in many types of hot or cold water systems, especially water tanks and air conditioning units. If someone inhales water vapour or droplets containing the bacteria, they can develop legionellosis, or Legionnaire’s disease, which is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.

What obligations does a landlord have when it comes to legionella checks?

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) says: “The practical and proportionate application of health and safety law to landlords of domestic rental properties is that whilst there is a duty to assess the risk from exposure to Legionella to ensure the safety of their tenants, this does not require an in-depth, detailed assessment.” 

In practice, if you have tenants in your rental property and they’re running water and flushing the toilet, the risks of legionella bacteria are very low indeed. These risks are even lower if you have a combination boiler or an electric shower because no warm or hot water is being stored. There are usually fewer than 500 legionellosis cases each year in the UK, with most people catching it on overseas holidays.

What does a legionella check and risk assessment involve?

A legionella check involves taking the temperature of the hot and cold water in a property. 

The hot water must reach at least 50C after running for one minute and the cold water must stay under 20C after running for two minutes. 

If the hot water is stored in a tank, then the minimum safe temperature is 60C.

When it comes to the risk assessment, the inspector will take a description of the hot and cold water systems, make sure that the cold water tank is free from scale and sludge and that it has a secure lid. 

The assessment also looks for water outlets that may be used less than once a week, such as in guest bathrooms or an annexe. It also notes the locations of any showers and asks for confirmation that the property isn’t unoccupied for lengthy periods.

Can I conduct the risk assessment and check myself?

You can, but your letting agent might be able to do it for you as part of its service. While there’s no formal legionella safety certification in the UK, having an objective party carry out and record the results of these checks may be more reassuring. 

How to reduce the risks of legionella even further

– During void periods, make sure you flush all toilets and run every hot and cold tap in the property at least once a week
– If the property has any plumbing or pipework that’s no longer used, have it removed
– Make sure you set the property’s hot water tank to 60C
– During routine property inspections, take the hot and cold water temperatures
– Ask your tenants to disinfect their shower heads regularly

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