Buy-to-let landlords should carry out an annual "MOT" on properties to ensure they meet required standards, a report has said.
A University of York review of private housing tenants found current regulation to be "confused and contradictory" and "failing at multiple levels", with tenants and landlords uncertain of their rights and responsibilities.
The review, which was funded by Nationwide Foundation, stated the needs of millions of private housing tenants have been ignored by politicians for years, leading to a "slum tenure" at the bottom end of the rental market.
In its recommendations, the review suggested the introduction of a property ‘MOT’ to be carried out on an annual basis by an independent inspector, much like the current process for vehicles.
Dr Julie Rugg, co-author of the report and senior research fellow at the University of York, said the standardised inspection would be just one way in which existing legislation could be simplified to improve the sector.
She said: "Unbelievably, there is currently no minimum standard that properties have to meet before they are let and as a result, millions of renters have to put up with damp, disrepair and sometimes life-threatening hazards.
"A property 'MOT' would give people confidence before they sign a tenancy that the property is well-managed and that standards will not lapse in the future, while for landlords, it offers greater clarity and protection against prosecution."
Ms Rugg said the current private rental market was not providing a suitable alternative to the declining home ownership witnessed in the UK and a fundamental rethink of renting’s role was needed to ensure it meets the needs of tenants.
Leigh Pearce, chief executive at Nationwide Foundation, said she hoped the review would be the start of a cross-party conversation to bring renting to the forefront of the government’s to do list.
She said: "For years politicians have ignored the needs of private renters, resulting in a market that all too often fails to provide decent, secure and affordable homes – particularly for those on low incomes.
"It is time government started to take this problem seriously. Instead of more tinkering round the edges, we need fundamental reform and a clear strategy to fix renting."
Certain minimum standards are already in place for landlords, such as those requiring they ensure their privately rented domestic and non-domestic properties in England or Wales reach at least an energy performance certificate rating of E before granting a new tenancy to new or existing tenants.
Liz Syms, chief executive at Connect Mortgages, said implementing expectations of standard would be good for landlords to know what the minimum requirement was and to have a benchmark to work towards.
However, Ms Syms said the benchmark had to work both ways and if the landlord adheres to ensuring the property is kept to a certain standard, then tenants must maintain the property to this standard in an equitable balance.