Landlord complaints increasing, says charity Shelter
Complaints about landlords in England have risen by more than a quarter in recent years, the charity Shelter says.
Freedom of information responses from 310 local authorities showed complaints rose by 27% between 2008/9 and 2011/12 - from 67,283 to 85,639.
Shelter said 62% of complaints in the last year related to "serious and life-threatening hazards", such as dangerous gas and electrics and severe damp.
Housing minister Mark Prisk said all people deserved "safe" accommodation.
'Fear of consequences'
Shelter submitted requests to 326 English local authorities in July 2012, of which 310 responded.
The charity asked about complaints received about private rented accommodation and enforcement action taken by councils against private landlords.
The number of successful prosecutions against private landlords rose by 77% between 2010/11 and 2011/12, it said.
And Shelter said the figures indicated health services had to be involved in 781 cases in the past year due to the behaviour or neglect of private landlords.
Chief executive Campbell Robb said the charity believed the number of so-called "rogue landlords" was still underestimated despite the increase in complaints.
"Some local authorities don't keep records of complaints and tenants often hold back from complaining out of fear of the consequences or because they don't believe their voices will be heard, even though such a high proportion of complaints is about life-threatening issues," he said.
He went on: "Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact these landlords have on people's health and wellbeing.
"There could be thousands more victims of these operators, trapped in homes that cause misery and, in some cases, put lives at risk.
Shelter is running a campaign Evict Rogue Landlords and has encouraged people to contact their council urging them to deal with the issue.
Chris Norris, of the National Landlords Association, which seeks a legal and regulatory environment for landlords and tenants, said it supported Shelter's calls for more to be done.
"Local authorities must concentrate on using their existing powers to target the criminals who exploit those who rely on the private rented sector for their homes," he said.
Mr Norris said tenants can help force criminal landlords out of the market by "seeking out professional landlords who demonstrate their commitment to providing good quality accommodation and participating in landlord accreditation schemes, such as NLA accreditation".
Meanwhile, the housing minister said he was "appalled by the living conditions faced by some tenants as a result of irresponsible landlords".
Mr Prisk said: "Shelter's figures show that while the vast majority of tenants are happy with the service they receive, those who are suffering at the hands of rogue landlords are coming forward and complaining to their councils.
"I now fully expect them to use the wide range of powers they have at their disposal to take action and make sure tenants get the service they deserve and rightly expect."