Private landlords would not be able to increase annual rents by more than inflation for three years under Labour plans to give tenants more security.
Ed Miliband said he would act immediately as prime minister to curb “massive” rent hikes.
Conservative London mayor Boris Johnson described rent controls as a “disastrous policy”.
Mr Miliband also ruled out any post-election “deals” between his party and the SNP to get into power.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, the Labour leader said he could win the election in Scotland and said there would be no “tie-ins” with Nicola Sturgeon’s party.
In other election news:
A clutch of polls suggested there remained little to choose between the Conservatives and Labour
David Cameron said wages, welfare, housing and childcare would be at the heart of the Conservatives’ programme for government in its first 100 days
Conservative donor Hugh Osmond told the Sunday Times both the Conservative and Labour campaigns were “utterly cynical”
But Carphone Warehouse chairman and former New Labour supporter Sir Charles Dunstone told the Mail on Sunday an Ed Miliband victory could put the UK’s economic recovery under threat.
Housing is a key election battleground, with all the major parties promising to build hundreds of thousands of new homes over the next five years to address what campaigners say is a chronic shortage of new housing stock.
Under Labour’s proposals, new tenants in England would have the right to find out what predecessors paid to help negotiate the “best deal”.
The Tories said the policy would “force up rents”, reduce investment in housing and lead to poorer-quality accommodation.
Mr Miliband said the policies would help “generation rent” – the millions of people priced out of the housing market in recent years and trapped in short-term, often insecure rental agreements.
Labour has already announced plans to extend the typical tenancy agreement from a year or less to three years following a probationary period of six months. Estate agents will also be banned from requiring fees from tenants before they move in.
This election issue includes house building, home ownership and social housing.
But the Labour leader said he wanted to do more to stop the estimated 4.5 million households renting privately from being “ripped off”.
He is pledging to cap rents during the course of the standard three-year tenancies so they cannot rise by more than the CPI measure of inflation, which is currently 0%, while allowing flexibility for them to be reduced.
Market rates will still apply at the start of a contract, but tenants will have a legal right to know what the previous tenant paid, which Labour says will put them in a stronger position to negotiate and make substantial rent rises between contracts less likely.
Labour says three-year tenancy agreements should become the norm, with landlords having to give two months’ notice before asking a tenant to leave and only if they have a “good reason” to do so. The rent cap would not apply to those who have agreed shorter contracts with their landlords, such as students or business people needing flexibility.
The party claims rents are, on average, £1,200 higher than they were in 2010, with some tenants in London facing double digit rises in a single year.
The UK rental market is far less regulated than its European counterparts, Labour argues, with one shadow minister recently comparing the London market to the “Wild West”
Asked on the Andrew Marr show about economists who say the policy does not work, Mr Miliband said rent controls had been successful in Ireland, where they were introduced in 2004. He said Britain was “almost the only country in the world” to have “insecure, one-year tenancies”.
Critics of the policy “want to defend the status quo,” he said.
Some excitement was provoked by several polls published over the past week – from Opinium, Survation and Ashcroft – suggesting four point Conservative leads.
However, in the same week, ICM registered a five point drop in Conservative support compared with their poll one week earlier.
I still find it difficult to discern any significant change in the polls that points to an emerging decisive lead by any party.
Labour is also warning “rogue” landlords that they face losing tax relief enabling them to offset 10% of their annual rental income against falls in the value of furniture and appliances.
If properties are not adequately maintained, the party said landlords would not be able to claim all of the so-called “wear and tear allowance”, arguing they should not be “subsidised for providing accommodation that fails to meet basic standards.”
London mayor Boris Johnson, who joined Mr Miliband on the Marr show, described Labour’s rent controls plan as “nonsense” and “a gimmick”.
He said: “First of all you’d discourage people from getting into the rental market, you’d discourage the creation of new housing, and all that would happen – fewer houses… [and] at the end of the three years those that remained renting out their properties would jack up the rents even higher.”
Ed Miliband, right, with Boris Johnson on the Andrew Marr Show
The Conservatives have placed increased home ownership at the heart of their housing plans, pledging to extend the Help to Buy Scheme to 2020 and extend the Right-to-Buy scheme to up to 1.3 million tenants of housing associations.
Under their plans, housing association tenants would get the same discounts to buy their homes as council tenants currently enjoy.
The Liberal Democrats are promising young people still living with their parents a loan to help pay for a deposit on a rented home of their own.
The Green Party is also proposing an inflation-linked cap on rent rises.
Speaking ahead of Monday’s policy launch, party leader Natalie Bennett said: “Keeping rent rises in line with inflation will reduce poverty and allow tenants a better standard of living.”