Extra tax breaks should be offered to landlords who sign up to a national scheme to raise standards in the private rented sector, housing experts have said.
A report by the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) and the Resolution Foundation (RF) said incentives for landlords would encourage them to improve the maintenance and management of their properties.
Private landlords currently receive around £7 billion in tax allowances each year, including for repairs and maintenance, but there is no incentive to carry out work above the minimum standard, the report claims.
The report also warns that more effective regulation is needed to tackle rogue landlords and calls for letting agents to be banned from charging tenants fees.
The CIH, which represents housing professionals, and the RF, which campaigns for better living standards for low to modest income families, said a third of privately-rented homes failed to meet modern standards.
The private rented sector has doubled in size since 1992 to four million households and now accounts for 18% of all households in England, they said.
Meanwhile, the percentage of private renters aged 25 to 34 rose from 31% in 2008/09 to 45% in 2012/13.
CIH chief executive Grainia Long said: "This Government has focused on measures to boost home ownership, but with more and more people living in the private rented sector - including more older people, more families with children and more vulnerable people from the housing waiting list - it's vital that we look at new ways to raise standards.
"The cost of housing means that for many people, the private rented sector is the only option, but too many of them are having to put up with poor standards and insecurity.
"Ultimately, we want people to have a good choice of housing at a price they can afford, so we need to make private rent a better option."
RF deputy chief executive Vidhya Alakeson added: "Many landlords already benefit from generous public subsidy but, while many of them are responsible, not all of them give anything in return.
"By introducing the principle of getting 'something for something' from this investment we could ensure that housing is improved and works better for both tenants and landlords. Government should incentivise those who work to raise their game in order to improve the overall standards of private renting."
Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: "We're determined to create a bigger, better private rented sector in which landlords and tenants alike can be confident that they'll get a fair deal.
"This includes investing £1 billion in our Build to Rent scheme, to up to 10,000 newly-built homes specifically for private rent, publishing our new How to Rent guide so tenants are better informed and know what to expect from their landlord, and requiring letting agents to publish full details of the fees they charge tenants.
"But we are also avoiding imposing excessive regulation that would push up rents, reduce choice for tenants and strangle the industry in red tape and regulation.
"For example, the experience of Scotland shows that banning letting agents from charging fees to tenants has just resulted in higher rents."