Rogue landlords have been cast into the spotlight, after an investigation found that a small but dangerous group are having an adverse effect on private renters.
Research by Shelter has found that unscrupulous buy-to-let investors are plaguing the rental sector, often leaving renters to live in run down accommodation.
The charity surveyed a number of environmental health officers, finding that over 90% who deal directly with private renters had encountered landlords harassing or illegally evicting tenants.
Almost all respondents said they had encountered landlords who persistently ignore their responsibilities, while nine in ten said they had encountered cases of severe damp, mould, and electrical or fire hazards in properties they investigated in the last year.
Extreme examples included homes with no heating, hot water or electricity, with families forced to warm their home with a halogen heater.
The problem has been exasperated by the increase in the number of renters over the last decade, with an estimated 1.1 million additional households finding a home in the sector.
The British Property Federation, which has lent its support to a campaign supporting better rights for tenants, said with mortgage and public finance for housing likely to remain constrained, the importance of the private rented sector will only increase.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, said: "It is simply not acceptable that people are handing over their hard earned cash to live in houses that are run-down, squalid and in some cases even dangerous."
"Our investigation shows just how ruthless a minority of rogue landlords can be. But this is not just the odd crook here and there.
"We know there are people operating in cities up and down the county and it's clear that this is a national problem that urgently needs a national solution."
The National Landlords' Association (NLA) said that local authorities must prosecute those who willfully ignore laws aimed at protecting tenants.
"Local authorities simply must do better by adopting a 'zero tolerance' approach to those landlords who willfully break the law," said David Salusbury, chairman of the NLA.
"If this rogue element within the sector goes unchallenged, then reputable landlords are tarnished and the image of the private-rented sector is damaged."
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