Landlords have a variety of legal responsibilities when it comes to the health and safety of their tenants.  It is their legal requirement to ensure that they are providing a safe environment for their tenants to live in and failure to do so could have serious consequences, from fines, to enforcement action, to prosecution or even imprisonment.  Part of the responsibilities of a landlord is to ensure that the water their tenants are exposed to is clean, safe and free from harmful bacteria.  For this reason, landlords need to have regular water sampling and analysis completed on their properties.

How can water be harmful to tenants?

All water sources, whether they are natural or man-made, contain a bacteria called Legionella.  Natural water sources like reservoirs and lakes contain this bacteria, but usually, the quantity is so low that it doesn’t impact anyone exposed to the water.  Man-made water systems on the other hand, can be breeding grounds for the bacteria and this can be harmful to anyone to that water. These man-made water systems include things like sinks and faucets, showerheads, air conditioning units and humidifiers, to name a few.

It is important to note here that even if no one is exposed to the bacteria in the water, landlords can still face penalties for not ensuring their water is clean. It isn’t a case of someone needing to fall ill or die before a landlord is held liable.

Why is Legionella Bacteria harmful?

Exposure to Legionella bacteria can lead to health issues, causing Pontiac Fever, or worse, Legionnaires’ disease.  Pontiac Fever is a mild, flu-like illness that generally tends to get better by itself, but does sometimes require antibiotics.  Legionnaires’ disease, on the other hand, is much more dangerous.  Legionnaires’ disease can lead to more serious health complications, like lung disease and it can even result in death.  Most people who contract Legionnaires’ disease will need to be hospitalised and receive antibiotics (and sometimes additional health care such as ventilation), and the majority of these people will make a full recovery.  1 in 10 people who contract Legionnaires’ disease, however, will die from the infection.

How will water sampling and analysis help?

By having the water in your property tested regularly, you have peace of mind of knowing that it does not contain harmful levels of the bacteria Legionella, therefore, your tenants will be safe.

In the UK, 300-400 people contract Legionnaires’ disease and as we’ve just discussed 10% of these people will die from it.  These deaths are entirely avoidable, with a simple water sample and analysis.

Yes, you could ignore your legal responsibilities as a landlord and the danger of the bacteria forming in the water could go unnoticed, but given the severe repercussions, is it worth taking that risk?

Can a landlord sample the water themselves?

ONLY, if the landlord has the necessary qualifications and equipment needed to do that, which most won’t. Even if a landlord is able to complete the analysis themselves, to ensure they are protected legally they should still outsource this to someone else so that they can prove the results were genuine if they need to.

Ideally, you should employ a reputable water management company to complete all water sampling for you.

Is water sampling and analysis a requirement?

Yes and no.  Strictly speaking, there is no law that stipulates you have to have your water sampled and analysed. However, it is the law that landlords have a duty of care to their tenants, and it is their responsibility to both understand the risk of Legionella and to monitor all water systems effectively. Monitoring all water systems effectively involves water quality sampling and testing, as well as regular risk assessments.

What water will the water management company need to sample?

For landlords, having fewer water systems than something like a hotel, testing will mainly focus on any hot and cold-water systems.  Further testing will need to be completed on any of the following water features (if they are a feature of the property):

  • Spa pools, water cooling systems and cooling towers
  • Evaporative condensers, misters, air washers, spray humidifiers and wet scrubbers
  • Water features and fountains
  • Sprinklers and safety showers
  • Vehicle washing systems
  • Any other system where water is contained and could potentially provide the right conditions for the growth and spread of Legionella bacteria

The water management company will explain everything they have found in their analysis and explain any further action you need to take (if any).

How often should water sampling and analysis be completed?

This is one of those areas where you should use your common sense. Legally, you should have your water systems checked at least every two years, however, it is advisable to do this annually.  Think about it this way, given the repercussions of fines and potential imprisonment, is it worth taking the risk and doing it as little as possible?

You should also have your water tested and sampled every time you make changes to all or part of your water systems.