Rogue landlords should be dealt tougher fines and more stringent licensing rules to avoid tenants being exploited, the Local Government Association (LGA) has said.
Fines that better reflect the housing offences committed, and a wider range of penalties so that the small number of landlords who rent out sub-standard accommodation are held to account have also been called for.
The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, said councils had found properties with fire escape doors opening out onto three-storey drops and without proper front doors.
A Redbridge landlord was fined £3,000 in 2014 for failing to rid his property of mice and cockroaches and forcing ten tenants, including children, to share a damp and mouldy kitchen.
And in Coventry six tenants were forced to live in a property for 12 months without fire alarms and a proper escape route - after which their landlord was fined just £100.
LGA housing spokesman councillor Peter Box said: "The courts need to punish rogue landlords proportionately and there should be a consistent standard when it comes to licensing.
"We know that the majority of tenants in the private rented sector are satisfied with their accommodation, but that shouldn't distract from the fact there are far too many rogue landlords creating misery for people who often see themselves as having little choice but to put up with it."
While landlords can be jailed for illegally evicting tenants, the highest penalty magistrates courts can impose for housing offences is a fine.
In theory this is unlimited, but the LGA said that a lack of guidelines is forcing magistrates to take landlords' financial circumstances into consideration during sentencing which is resulting in "paltry fines".
"Councils are doing everything they can to tackle bad practice by rogue landlords. However, they are being hamstrung by a system racked by delays, bureaucracy and feeble fines," Mr Box added.
"Magistrates should be able to take the seriousness of the offence into consideration and jail rogue landlords who put lives at risk. Fines must match the offence, rather than landlords' ability to pay - which is an open invitation for exploitation."
The possibility of a centralised blacklist database to identify persistent offenders was welcomed by the LGA "as long as the administrative burden and cost of compiling a list does not fall on local authorities".