Councils have been urged to get tough on private landlords after just a handful of complaints from tenants led to prosecutions.
Thousands of concerns over health and safety breaches, financial scams, illegal evictions, overcrowding and harassment are made every year.
Most councils saw an increase in complaints, raising concerns that unscrupulous landlords are taking advantage of a housing shortage to exploit tenants.
But councils around Yorkshire could only provide details of 82 prosecutions brought against landlords since 2011, and the figures reveal big variations in the number of cases brought by local authorities.
Independent think tank Generation Rent said figures paint a telling portrait of how the county’s lack of affordable housing “is attracting lots of unscrupulous operators to the housing market”.
Policy manager Dan Wilson-Craw said: “Local councils are required to enforce health and safety standards in private rented homes, but renters don’t always know this, and councils themselves haven’t got used to the size of the sector, which has doubled in the past decade.
“Councils need to get tougher on criminal landlords. They need to encourage private renters to report cases of negligent landlords to the council.”
Latest figures obtained from Kirklees Council show there were 823 complaints against landlords in 2012-13, 889 the following year and 342 in the first six months of 2014-15.
“Further action” was taken 257 times in 2012-13, 214 times in 2013-14 and 59 times in the first six months of last year.
The majority of complaints were resolved by carrying out property inspections.
A Kirklees Council spokesperson added: “However, around a quarter of these complaints require the use of legislation – where we have to serve a notice before issues are resolved. Prosecutions only take place when negotiations fail to resolve the issue.
“In Kirklees we have only needed to undertake court action against one landlord during the previous year.”
Separate figures show Wakefield Council had 173 complaints about private landlords, including for harassment and illegal eviction, in the past four years.
The council did not provide figures on prosecutions.
Leeds City Council received 2,349 about health and safety standards in 2013-14, up from 1,574 the previous year and 1,339 in 2011-12.
Leeds could not provide any figures for prosecutions.
The overall number of complaints against landlords in Barnsley has risen steadily, from 506 complaints in 2011-12 to 765 in 2014-15.
But only one prosecution has been brought by the council since 2011.
Doncaster has brought just one prosecution against a landlord in the private housing sector since 2011, a period in which 2,516 complaints were made. Of those, 564 were made in the last financial year.
The news comes the wake of revelations from housing charity Shelter, which has been flooded with over 17,000 calls from tenants having problems with their landlord.
Generation Rent blamed increasing pressures on council budgets for small numbers of prosecutions.
Richard Lambert, chief executive officer at the National Landlords Association (NLA) said: “The NLA would like to see more being done to crack down on those who exploit tenants and give landlords a bad name.
“However, prosecutions are time-consuming and expensive and the relatively small number of landlord prosecutions brought by local councils suggests that they do not have the capacity to respond to the need as the private-rented sector grows.”
Calls have been made for local authorities to be able to keep monies generated from successful prosecutions, backed by Generation Rent and the NLA.