University of York students have been thrown into confusion following the breakdown of the on-campus letting agency Yorkshire Residential Letting Agents (YRLA).
Whilst their website states that the partnership was officially dissolved in October 2009, a bitter legal battle amongst the directors and ex-staff has lead to rumours circulating the University.
Student Services have also been heavily criticised, with a source telling Nouse that “they don’t know their elbow from their a*se hole”, and another saying that they “often give students misleading advice”.
Students have complained of a severe lack of information from the agency, with many YRLA tenants now questioning the validity of their contracts and are currentlyseeking legal advice.
YRLA originally comprised of five partners: Robert MacMahon, his wife Elizabeth MacMahon, Adam Bennett, his wife Victoria Dibb-Bennett and Ali Erzov.
However, personal disputes amongst the directors have since caused the partnership to break down. It is also understood that the vast majority of YRLA staff left during the split.
The agency, which was last year ranked along with Sinclair and IG Property in the top three student accommodation agencies in York, has now been split down into two.
Robert MacMahon and his wife now run Access Properties York from the original YRLA office in Market Square on campus, where they have ten months remaining on the lease.
Adam Bennett and his wife have since relocated to an office in Gillygate, where they run Adam Bennett Properties. Their website, www.adambennett.co.uk, still states that they hold an office “located near the shops on the University of York Campus” and sources reporting to Nouse suggest that they are soon to set up above Costcutters, in direct competition with Robert MacMahon.
Ali Erzov is believed to be working with the Bennetts, although he was unavailable to comment at the time this article went to print.
YRLA tenants were first alerted to friction within the management when the website www.yrla.co.uk was seized by Bennett, who owns the domain name.
The original site was replaced with a statement, saying “notice is given that the partnership between Robert MacMahon, Elizabeth MacMahon, Adam Dennis Bennett, Victoria Ruth Elsie Dibb-Bennett and Ali Ersoz trading as ‘Yorkshire Residential Letting Agents’ and/or ‘YRLA’ principally from the premises at Unit 5, Market Square, Vanbrugh Way, Heslington, York, YO10 5NH determined/dissolved on 14 October 2009.”
Lists of properties were also replaced with a link to Bennett’s new site, www.adambennett.co.uk, and his contact information.
MacMahon then retaliated through the site www.yrla.com, by posting a similar message, contact details for the staff of A.P.York, and a link to his site www.apyork.com.
An email was later sent by MacMahon to all YRLA tenants, stating: “You may have been contacted by Adam Bennett and I am writing to confirm that he and his wife have resigned as partners.”
He continued to say that “the business will continue with the two remaining partners, my wife and myself” and that “as far as you are concerned, it is business as normal.”
Whilst the message said nothing to reassure students about the status of their contracts, it stated: “Adam has control of our website and has turned it off”, and that they were “sad and disappointed with [his] actions.”
One of the rumours emerging from the split is that the change of YRLA to A.P. York has invalidated the tenants’ current contracts.
A source talking to Nouse stated that “students should have been notified who they should pay rent to” and that “they haven’t been served with a section 47 change of name or address so they don’t have to pay rent.”
MacMahon, however, disagrees. He said: “The tenancy agreement is with the landlord not the agent so it isn’t affected… students will be contacted if any alternative payment arrangements apply.” He added: “To any student acting on that advice – don’t try to be clever, pay your rent.”
Whilst the legal status of YRLA tenancy agreements are still under investigation, YUSU Welfare Officer Ben Humphrys advises that “current student contracts should not be directly affected by the changes, but if any student is worried then they can drop into the Advice and Support Centre in James College and we’ll go over any problems.”
Speaking on the split, MacMahon stated: “Some parties are being quite aggressive and are running agendas you do not want to get into.”
Bennett also spoke to Nouse, commenting that YRLA “wasn’t run like a partnership, it was more like a dictatorship” and described MacMahon’s style as being of full of “smoke and mirrors”.
Meanwhile, a legal battle between the two directors continues, with a source suggesting that there is disagreement over the amount that one will pay for the other’s share in the partnership.
Whilst both MacMahon and Bennett have argued that their respective agencies will now take third place in York’s top three student letting companies, what is certain is that the landlord’s that previously rented through YRLA will now have to choose which of the two to do business with, or alternatively decide to let through a completely different agency.
Through a Nouse investigation, it has been estimated that MacMahon currently controls 200 properties and Bennett controls 38.
However, a source suggested that MacMahon may well have “properties on his website which landlords have not yet agreed to let through him”, and Bennett said that he is aiming for “quality not quantity”, stating that he wants “the best landlords with the best houses in the best streets, nothing more.”
It is also rumoured that Bennett may have “more properties in a separate agency which he is planning to merge” with Adam Bennett Properties.
During the course of this investigation, both Bennett and MacMahon were also accused of “scaremongering”, with freshers being heavily pressured into signing contracts for houses as early as November, despite houses being readily available later in the year.
Humphrys agreed, speaking of “the importance of not searching for accommodation until February, when [YUSU will] be providing you with all the inside information you need to make a good choice from the surplus of accommodation in York.”
Legal proceedings between MacMahon and Bennett are due to come to a close this week.
YRLA Break Down
- YRLA formed with five original partners: Robert MacMahon, Elizabeth MacMahon, Adam Bennett. Victoria Dibb-Bennett and Ali Erzov
- Personal disputes cause Adam Bennett and many other staff to resign from YRLA
- Bennett takes control of the www.yrla.co.uk domain name
- MacMahon sends an email to YRLA tenants officially informing them of the split
- Bennett relocates to offices in town
- MacMahon continues to work from the old YRLA offices on campus, in market square, although he changes the name to Access Properties York