31 July 2015

A Leeds specialist in home safety checks is warning landlords and letting agents not to fall foul of toughened-up laws designed to prevent Legionnaires' disease in the private rented market.

Ignite Gas Care, based in Horsforth, said it was now a legal requirement to carry out a risk assessment on all hot and cold water systems to ascertain the threat of contamination by the Legionella bacteria.

Although official figures state that there are approximately 400 cases of the potentially-fatal Legionnaires' disease each year in the UK, experts believe it could be nearer to 9,000, as many are not reported or passed off as seasonal flu.

In fact, it is a severe form of pneumonia which can be particularly serious for elderly people and those with weak immune systems. Humans contract the disease by inhaling small droplets containing the deadly bacteria and symptoms can range from high temperatures and muscle pains through to mental confusion and even death.

"This is the latest in a series of tougher laws with the aim of driving up safety standards in a fast-growing sector – handing the legal duty for doing so to agents and landlords," said Jon Oldroyd, managing director of Ignite.

"Gas safety checks and the testing of electrics have long played a key role in keeping tenants safe. But the Legionella assessment, coupled with the mandatory introduction of smoke alarms and carbon monoxide monitors later this year, will now give them ultimate peace of mind.

"The updated legislation spells out the legal requirements for landlords and managing agents to help them ensure that the tenant's risk from exposure to legionella from water systems in residential rental property is safely controlled.

"Failure to do these checks, and take action where required, could see hefty fines of up to £20,000 imposed on landlords and lettings agents."

The company has invested in specialist training and equipment to enable its team of engineers to carry out the assessment at the same time they perform other safety checks to minimise the disruption to tenants.

A risk assessment involves assessing whether conditions are right for bacteria to flourish. The greatest risk is where water is present at temperatures between 20C and 45C. Stagnant water, in tanks for example, infrequently used outlets, showers and air conditioning units, debris in water systems, and thermostatic mixing valves should be checked and corrective action taken where necessary.

Safeguards may involve disinfecting water systems, cleaning shower heads, servicing air conditioning units, removing or stagnant water pools and water tanks from systems, insulating pipework, and keeping water cisterns properly covered and free of debris.