Legionella Testing for Landlords
In this technical review our expert team consider legionella testing for landlords and property managers, looking at the essentials of good property management with a focus on building water systems and what can be done to keep them safe for tenants and other people.
We ask a number of questions including… is testing for legionella a legal requirement? Is there such a thing as a “landlords certificate”? Who can do the tests, and is testing for legionella a good thing?
A version of this story dealing with legionella testing for landlords first appeared in Legionella Control International’s newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.
Should landlords be testing for legionella?
In the UK all landlords are required by law to make sure their premises are safe for tenants to use.
This holds true regardless of whether the property is rented by a business or an individual private tenant.
One of the things landlords must be sure of is the safety of the water systems used in their properties and this includes managing the risks from Legionella bacteria.
Legionella is the bacteria responsible for Legionnaires’ disease, Pontiac fever, and legionellosis.
An outbreak of the disease can potentially lead to many people falling ill and the risk of one or more deaths.
As such, every landlord must make sure their rental properties are safe from the risks caused by legionella.
Is legionella testing by landlords a legal requirement?
Testing for legionella by landlords depends on the individual circumstances and risk levels inherent in each situation.
In most cases, landlords won’t need to test the water in their properties for Legionella bacteria.
However, there may be instances whereby this would be a good idea.
The first step to controlling the risks posed by legionella in any water system is to conduct a legionella risk assessment.
The assessment will identify any risks that may be present and give guidance on how to control them.
This risk assessment should also be regularly reviewed to ensure nothing has changed that might pose an additional risk to you, tenants and visitors.
If any additional risk factors are identified, the assessment should be updated to reflect this.
In most cases involving smaller residential buildings with simple water systems, nothing else needs to be done, particularly in instances where the landlord is renting a domestic property.
It is situations where the rental property is more complex that might highlight the need for legionella testing by the landlord.
Housing co-operatives, hostels, and large buildings with rooms for rent (and more complex water systems) are more likely to require more in-depth routine water testing.
Similarly, buildings that are occupied by tenants who are considered to be more at risk from the effects of Legionnaires’ disease should also be considered for routine legionella testing.
Do landlords need a legionella test certificate?
Depending on what you’ve read, you may be surprised to learn that such a “landlords certificate” is not required nor recognised by the UK’s safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
What landlords do need to do is to ensure the water systems in their rental properties are safe to use and do not pose a risk from legionella to those using the water.
If testing for legionella isn’t usually required, why opt to have it done?
The most important and sensible answer to this question is peace of mind.
With some research or training a sensible landlord should be able to conduct a basic legionella risk assessment of their property.
However, if the water systems are complex, legionella testing could be used to confirm the safety of that system.
Typical examples might include water systems in older buildings.
These might have had many changes over the years, leading to dead legs, older pipework, and the potential for other potential danger areas to arise.
Another example might involve a large building with many separate rental units.
Similarly, if a building is rented to a business focused on providing elderly care or medical services of some description, there could also be a greater risk posed to people visiting the premises.
In all these cases – and arguably many others as well – there is a case to be heard for getting regular legionella testing done.
Legionella test results demonstrate landlords are taking their responsibilities seriously
Controlling the potential for legionella to spread throughout any building water system is a condition of good water system management.
If as a landlord you are assessing the water system for the first time, perhaps after buying the property, you cannot know for sure how safe the water currently is.
Even if you conduct a legionella risk assessment that appears to note there are no obvious risk factors to be aware of, you cannot be sure the system is not already contaminated with Legionella bacteria.
A good example would be if the property had stood empty for some time before purchase.
Over a prolonged period of time the water inside the building would stagnate, encouraging legionella and other bacteria present to multiply within the water system, potentially to dangerous levels.
By asking experts such as Legionella Control International to conduct professional legionella testing of the water systems, you can begin to build a better picture of the condition of the water to ensure it is safe to use.
If testing reveals that there are raised legionella levels present, you can take appropriate steps to reduce those levels.
Your responsibilities as a landlord include foreseeing potential risks in future
This is another area where legionella testing can be very useful.
Even if the water system shows safe levels of bacteria at present, it could be that samples taken from one or two points in the water system highlight marginally elevated levels.
If so, these could show areas of pipework or other issues that could pose problems in future.
Even if the water system in a rented property is relatively simple and does not require regular water testing to take place, occasional legionella tests can help support the landlord’s efforts to maintain a safe property.
If the Health and Safety Executive ever asks to see proof of the landlord’s efforts to keep the water systems safe for use, reports from the testing process can be produced to help demonstrate that precautions are in place.
Testing for legionella may not always be required, but we can see its validity even in the simplest of circumstances.
Peace of mind is just one aspect to consider – the safety of everyone living or working in the property is certainly another.
Legionella testing and water quality analysis specialists
Our teams of legionella and water safety specialists support those responsible for the control of legionella in water systems including landlords, helping them to mitigate their risks, protect people and meet their health and safety obligations in this specialist area.
We deliver professional water safety risk assessments for legionella, legionella testing, independent compliance auditing, City & Guilds training and other environmental risk management services that help keep staff and others safe.