The number of complaints about rogue landlords in the South West has increased by nearly a third in the past year, a new investigation has revealed.
The charity Shelter has warned that forcing people to live in sub-standard conditions can affect their health, after revelations that complaints about landlords to local authorities across the region rose by 32%, with more than 5,000 complaints made in total over the past year alone.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter, believes the number of people suffering is actually far greater, because many are scared of reporting their problem.
"Every day at Shelter we see the devastating impact these landlords have on people's health and wellbeing," he said.
"In the South West there could be thousands more victims of these operators, trapped in homes that cause misery and, in some cases, put lives at risk."
The investigation revealed that the number of successful prosecutions made against private landlords has decreased by 7% in the last year, and local authorities are being urged to do more.
One Plymouth grandmother, who did not want to be named, said she is suffering from stress as a result of a catalogue of complaints which have gone unanswered in her home.
They range from holes in the roof and plaster, to three different types of mould and windows which have been sealed with duct tape for more than seven months.
Now, she is taking action through Plymouth City Council, who she says have been "100% supportive".
She called for laws to tackle rogue landlords to be tightened, and said: "Everybody is struggling in this climate."
She continued: "I'm living below the poverty line, and to have someone like him grabbing my money with absolutely no responsibility is immoral."
In Torquay, the Melville Hill community Group set up a website to highlight images of neglected properties, which was taken down after Torbay Council agreed to talks.
Now, Mayor Gordon Oliver has agreed to spend £100,000 to tackle the issue.
Labour Councillor Darren Cowell, who championed the campaigners' cause, urged other communities to unite.
He said; "This is a great illustration of communities leading the way and local authorities taking action."
Shelter has created a spoof video, with advice on how to tackle the problem, on its website: england.shelter.org.uk