Currently in Market Square there is a letting agency which is hugely popular with the student body when choosing to rent for the first time off-campus. The problem is that the existence of a letting agency on campus is both bad for students and bad for the lettings market in York more generally.
This isn’t to say that Adam Bennett, the letting agency in question, necessarily provides a bad service to students, or that those that rent with them are unhappy. But by the University allowing a letting agency to have its offices in Market Square, they are inadvertently causing a series of problems that need consideration. Freshers are inexperienced when it comes to renting off-campus, and by the time they start looking for housing off-campus, they have only been at York for several months. This means that naturally they very often go to the first letting agent they see: Adam Bennett in Market Square. The issue is that it can allow students to rent a house without considering the competition. The best way to ensure a decent house with good value for money is to shop around. But Adam Bennett’s presence on campus discourages precisely this kind of shopping around. Why go to IG, Sinclair or anyone else, when there is a letting agency a stone’s throw from your lecture hall?
The prime location of Market Square unfortunately doesn’t provide any incentives for the business to continually improve their service, either. After all, should students have any complaints about them, they have no real need to act. So long as the university maintains their lease, they will have another willing group of consumers, all of whom have no experience of York’s property market, every single year.
To allow one business over another a premise on campus doesn’t square up with the University’s claim not to favour or disfavour any letting agency in York. By allowing a letting agent to rent its office space in Market Square, the University, perhaps inadvertently, sends out the message that the activities and business practices of the letting agency are officially endorsed. This can, and does, lead to people choosing their homes for second and third year based purely on the assumption that the university approves of one particular lettings business over another. This is quite obviously a problem: the University shouldn’t be seen by anybody to have a partial stake in York’s rental market.
Having a letting agent on campus is also bad for the market more generally. The competitive advantage a business gets from being located on campus so close to its target population cannot be overstated. This competitive advantage means the on-campus letting agency doesn’t have to compete as well on price or deposits as other businesses. It should concern not only the University, but YUSU as well, that one business has such dominance over its competitors primarily due to its advantageous location.
The University, ultimately in charge of Adam Bennett’s lease, should neglect to renew their contract when it next comes up for tender. Having a letting agent on campus is a system that is open to potential pitfalls, with both negative effects for students and for York’s lettings market. In the interests of fairness, all letting agencies should be located off campus, thus allowing them to compete purely on price, quality of service and properties – not, as currently is the case with Adam Bennett, on the assumption that they are university endorsed.