Last week we looked at how landlords can work more effectively with their tenants on Legionella control. This week we examine that other vital relationship in a landlord’s professional life: the letting agent. Many landlords appoint a letting or managing agent to help run their rental property, particularly if their portfolio is sizeable or if their properties are spread out geographically. With Legionella control often part of the agent’s responsibility, here we offer some advice on ensuring that landlord and agent work together on managing the risk of Legionella.
Firstly it’s worth considering the different roles and responsibilities of both parties when it comes to Legionella control. Under the law, the landlord is defined as the ‘dutyholder’, which means that they have ultimate responsibility for assessing and controlling the risk of Legionella in their rental properties. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they will carry out these tasks personally though; they may choose to appoint a third party as their ‘responsible person’, rather than fulfilling the role themselves. The letting or managing agent could be the responsible person, who the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) defines as someone with “sufficient authority, competence, skills and knowledge” of the plumbing system and of Legionella control measures. Equally, the responsible person could be a specialist water engineer from a consultancy such as Compliance for Landlords.
When choosing to employ a letting or managing agent, landlords should discuss the matter of Legionella control and decide who is best-placed to take charge of it. Whoever it is needs to be suitably trained and experienced to satisfy the legal criteria, so if your agent is undertaking the responsibility make sure that you see evidence of their qualifications and are clear on their level of competency. If anything should go wrong, you as the landlord and dutyholder will be legally responsible for any failings within the system.
If your agent decides to work with an external supplier on Legionella control, again it is your responsibility to ensure that the company is suitably capable with appropriate certification. We would always advocate checking that they are an approved member of the Legionella Control Association.
Find out how often your properties will be assessed and how frequently the risk assessment will be reviewed. Ask to see an example of the risk assessment the supplier will provide and agree how any maintenance or remedial work will be handled. You should also request a copy of the risk assessment for your properties so that you are able to demonstrate a paper trail to the authorities if any incidents occur. It’s vital that you satisfy yourself that the correct procedures and practice are being followed so ask to see evidence rather than relying on verbal assurances.
If your letting agent is the main point of contact for your tenants, be clear on how they will be informed and involved in any control measures. Does your agent supply information to tenants on Legionella and its risks?
If any changes are made to the provision of Legionella control, be certain that your agent informs you in a timely fashion. Similarly, enquire as to the arrangements for any periods of staff absence or illness, as very often an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease occurs when the responsible person isn’t there and routine procedures aren’t kept up or an untrained colleague is left in charge. This particularly applies if your property is left empty for long periods of time (such as student accommodation outside term time) as your agent or supplier will need to be carrying out a regular flushing regime.
As with all aspects of landlord and letting agent relations, the key is clarity and communication. Agree who is responsible for what and make sure that all parties are kept informed. Legionella control for most rental properties is fairly straightforward, but this doesn’t mean it isn’t important, and furthermore, ignorance is no excuse and certainly isn’t a legal defence.