Legionella is caused by the spread of bacteria in hot and cold water systems.  Investors holding student accommodation need to understand how best to shoulder their obligations to control this potentially fatal illness.

The Health and Safety Executive's Code of Practice on the Control of Legionella Bacteria in Water Systems advises landlords how to comply with their obligations relating to the control of legionella.  An updated HSE guidance note, HSG274, published in April has made it clear that landlords of residential premises who are in control of the premises or are responsible for the premises' water system must, like commercial landlords, ensure the risk of exposure of tenants to legionella is properly assessed and controlled.  Further, HSG274 stipulates at paragraph 2.139 that, where a managing/letting agent assumes responsibility for maintenance of the premises or the premises' water system, the duties specified fall on the agent.

The Code and HSG274 are essential reading for operators in the student accommodation sector.  Operators who fail to comply with their obligations under the Code and HSG274 may be prosecuted by HSE - whether or not a tenant has become infected.  They also face the risk of liability for negligence where a tenant becomes infected - and, if an infection proves fatal, corporate manslaughter charges.

Key actions for those affected by the Code and HSG274:

  • Where an agent of the operator assumes liability for building maintenance, the appointment of the agent must clearly define the liabilities of the respective parties.
  • Any operator retaining the necessary degree of control over a building should adhere to the Code and HSG274 - these documents do not have the force of law but they do provide guidance on the most effective way of complying with the law.  Such an operator should carry out an early risk assessment (and effect any remedial action shown to be necessary) in accordance with HSG274