The government must address the “clear power imbalance” in parts of the rental market, MPs said after their inquiry found tenants hesitate to complain about conditions such as excess cold, mould or faulty wiring.
The worst offending landlords should be hit with more robust penalties, with local authorities given the power to confiscate properties for the most serious offences, according to the committee.
In some areas up to 25 people could be found living in houses of just three-bedrooms, the inquiry found.
And in the lower end of the market where some 800,000 private rented homes have at least one major hazard, 200,000 tenants reported having been abused or harassed by a landlord, and 44% of tenants said a fear of retaliatory eviction would stop them from making a landlord complaint.
More power and resource for local authorities
The committee wants local authorities to have stronger powers and to be able to give harsher fines to crack down on unscrupulous practices.
MP Clive Betts, chair of committee, said: “The imbalance in power in the private rented sector means vulnerable tenants often lack protection from unscrupulous landlords who can threaten them with retaliatory rent rises and eviction if they complain about unacceptable conditions in their homes.
“Local authorities need the power to levy more substantial fines against landlords and in the case of the most serious offenders, ultimately be able to confiscate their properties.
“Such powers are however meaningless if they are not enforced and at the same time councils need more resources to carry out effective prosecutions.”
Responding to the report, Alan Ward, chair of the Residential Landlords Association said: “Tenants and good landlords are being let down by local authorities unable to properly enforce the powers they already have.
“RLA research has found that there are over 140 Acts of Parliament and more than 400 regulations affecting the private rented sector.
“While the MPs on the Committee call for greater powers to protect tenants when they raise complaints about standards in a property, the reality is that these protections already exist.
“The problem is that over-stretched councils simply do not have the resources to properly use such powers to protect tenants from the minority of landlords who are criminals and have no place in the sector.
“We therefore welcome calls by the committee for greater resources for local authorities and greater political leadership by them to root out criminal landlords.”