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Legionnaires’ disease: A Landlord’s Obligations

Liam O’Shea, Director and Solicitor in Astle Paterson’s Dispute Resolution department discusses the a landlord’s legal obligations to a tenants’ potential exposure to the legionella bacteria.

Legionnaires’ disease, caused by legionella bacteria is a potentially fatal form of pneumonia.   A landlord, as a person in control of premises, has a legal obligation to tenants, residents or their visitors to their property to take precautions to reduce the risks of exposure to legionella.

The bacterium Legionella pneumophila are common in rivers, lakes and reservoirs – and they may be found in water systems within residential and commercial buildings.

Hot and cold water systems in buildings can provide the perfect place for the bacteria to multiply – as the water temperature of between 20–45 °C may be present, water droplets can be produced, the water is stored and/or re-circulated and there may be deposits that can feed the bacteria (including rust or organic matter.)

Legionnaires’ disease is normally contracted by inhaling small droplets of water in the air containing the bacteria.   It is therefore important to control the risks by introducing measures which do not allow the bacteria to multiply and reduce the exposure to water droplets.

Landlords are responsible for health and safety and need to take the right precautions to reduce the risks of exposure to legionella.  A landlord must:

  • identify and assess sources of risk – including understanding the water systems, the equipment associated with the same including showers and identify whether they are likely to create a risk from exposure to legionella (and take a view on whether the circumstances in which the bacteria can multiply as set out above exist);
  • manage any risks;
  • prevent or control any risks;
  • keep and maintain the correct records; and
  • identify and assess sources of risk.

Further a landlord needs to assess whether tenants, residents or visitors are more susceptible to infection due to age, illness, or a weakened immune system and whether they could be exposed to any contaminated water droplets

Carrying out a risk assessment is the landlord’s responsibility – however if the landlord is not able to carry out the assessment they could employ an organisation to assist them.

If the landlord concludes that there is no reasonably foreseeable risk or the risks are low and are being properly managed after following the proper procedure then their obligation is discharged, but any existing controls must be maintained and a review of the assessment must take place regularly.

Liam O’Shea of Astle Paterson specialises in the law of Landlord & Tenant and carries out work on behalf of Landlords throughout Burton upon Trent and the surrounding areas – please contact him on 01283 531366 or by email at loshea@astlepaterson.co.uk.

To find out more then please click on the link to the Health & Safety Executives Code of Practice note, Legionnaires’ disease. The control of legionella bacteria in water systems’.

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