Some landlords owning hundreds of properties regarded their tenants' deposits as a tax-free bonus, MLAs were told, on 30 January 2012.
Michael Copeland proposed the UUP motion, which urged the minister for social development to bring forward his plans to introduce a mandatory tenancy deposit scheme.
Mr Copeland said the term landlord had a certain resonance in this country, with images of people living in squalor and foppish gentlemen in the gaming houses of London.
He explained that the scheme would see tenants' deposits placed with an independent third party. A free service would deal with disputes between landlords and tenants over the return of deposits.
Mr Copeland gave examples of students who had been treated badly by landlords.
Fra McCann proposed the Sinn Fein amendment, which called for the Dublin-based Private Residential Tenancies Board to be used as an example for the way forward.
He said that private tenants drew down tens of millions of pounds from the government in housing benefit each year.
The DUP's Gregory Campbell noted that there were in excess of 100,000 dwellings in the private rented sector in Northern Ireland.
Mark Durkan of the SDLP said students were often seen as "soft targets" by unscrupulous landlords but they were just the tip of the iceberg. This was a symptom of the failure to provide adequate social housing.
Anna Lo of the Alliance party had many students living in private rented dwellings in her South Belfast constituency. She expressed her support for both the motion and the amendment.
Social development minister Nelson McCausland said he was somewhat bemused by the motion as he was already committed to introducing such a scheme by November this year.
The minister said it was possible that this could be laid before the house before the summer recess depending upon progress made by the social development committee.
He said he was committed to dealing with the matter "swiftly and decisively".
Referring to the Sinn Fein amendment, the minister said the system overseen by the Republic's tenancies board was time-consuming and expensive.
Mr McCausland said that significant preparatory work had been done in advance of the introduction of the new system.
The motion was passed on an oral vote and the Sinn Fein amendment was defeated.