York students caught up in bitter rivalry between ex-YRLA partners

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

  1. YRLA formed with five original partners: Robert MacMahon, Elizabeth MacMahon, Adam Bennett. Victoria Dibb-Bennett and Ali Erzov
  2. Personal disputes cause Adam Bennett and many other staff to resign from YRLA
  3. Bennett takes control of the www.yrla.co.uk domain name
  4. MacMahon sends an email to YRLA tenants officially informing them of the split
  5. Bennett relocates to offices in town
  6. MacMahon continues to work from the old YRLA offices on campus, in market square, although he changes the name to Access Properties York

16 comments

  1. “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”. ”

    What does this refer to? It doesn’t seem to relate to the article, and UI’d really quite like to know what sort of misleading advice they’ve been giving!

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  2. Me and my housemates got our house through YRLA and actually ended up with Adam Bennett as our land lord. As far as the split goes we haven’t been affected at all and I imagine most others that got their houses through YRLA will agree with me because rent, etc, is paid to the landlord and is not dealt with by the agency.

    Adam himself has been a good landlord. When we requested work to be done on the house he was open to everything we suggested and he was fast in getting it done. When the fuse box did something and turned all the lights out he walked us through every step over the phone to fix the problem and was very patient with us knowing nothing of fuses or electricity. When a shower blocked he sent a plumber round the very next day (a Sunday) to see that it was fixed. He’s realistic about what he expects a student house to be like and is down to earth about everything.

    However, we were indeed told as early as November that we should get our deposit down for a house before Christmas because 8 person houses were so in demand and there were not many around so we needed to snap them up fast (does that count as misleading advice confused.com?). I even remember some of us stuggling to pay because we were running out of loan money and Christmas drained our cash, personally I had to borrow the money off my Dad until my loan came in January, which is a lot to ask of him. We were only being proactive and looking to see what we should do about housing in our second year when what we were told by YRLA made us panic and make rash decisions that have been regretted. We know now that there was no rush and I sincerely hope that YUSU’s attempts to encourage students to wait until at least February to start looking for housing have worked.

    My advice to anyone looking for a house next year is to steer clear of any fueding agencies like these. If there were implications of being caught the crossfire it would be unnecessary and unwelcome stress to a lifestyle that can get very stressful. Above all though wait until after Christmas before even considering house hunting and do not let any agency bully or panic you into choosing a house that might not be perfect. Listen to advice from Student Welfare and YUSU, the agencies want to sell their houses but YUSU want to look after you!

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  3. Sinclair and YRLA top letting agencies in York for what? Worse house condition and service, or large number of houses to let???

    From my point of view as a student, I prefer renting a house from a helpful, responsible and trustworthy agent. As some agencies who letting large amount of properties, they do not have the abilities to manage them. Resulting the tenants surfer worse experience living in such bad managed property.

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  4. 9 Dec ’09 at 5:06 pm

    Phil Garlick

    Send Steve Miller in. He will fix it

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  5. “However, we were indeed told as early as November that we should get our deposit down for a house before Christmas because 8 person houses were so in demand and there were not many around so we needed to snap them up fast (does that count as misleading advice confused.com?)”.

    Definitely! But what does it have to do with Student Services?

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  6. This split comes as no surprise. My experiences of dealing with Bennett, however, have been positive.

    Comment edited by a moderator

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  7. Over the last two years we have had two different experiences of YRLA. In 2008, they were out letting agency, whereas for 2009, they simply formed the contract on behalf of our landlord.

    However, in both cases it has been pretty terrible service. Both years we have had problems with little fees here and there that YRLA have tried to impose on us. We have also had incidents relating to rent on the contract being higher than previously advertised (which not even our landlord could explain?). These mistakes took them ages to rectify even though I fully explained the calculations via email. I can only think that they were attempting to pocket a bit more cash.

    Following the split in the company, McMahon has also emailed us to say that he will be arranging viewings of our property. However, this is before our landlord had agreed to advertise the property through them. We now have been instructed not to let them enter the property if they visit, which puts us in an awkward position.

    Generally sloppy service, where 9/10 times the staff are rude and obnoxious. Especially, McMahon who seems to believe that he is infalliable and cannot possibly make a mistake, therefore, refusing to apologise for his mistakes. It is a shame seeming as Adam Benett was always kind and down to earth when we had dealings with him.

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  8. I do not understand any confusion about rent calculations. YRLA provide a schedule with the agreement showing how the total rent is calculated and split between (is it four?) payments. It might be difficult to follow without this schedule though.

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  9. I was looking at 3 bed house and found a nice one to let with apyork.com see link

    http://apyork.com/flyers/cemetery_rd_stud.pdf

    but I was horrified to read at the bottom of the page “no all male groups” is sex discrimination against the law ?

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  10. @ Maestro,

    As both a student and letting agent I can tell you that; yes, that particular agent is breaking the sex discrimination act with that advertisement.

    Landlords have made similar requests at our agency, but we have had to turn them down on legal grounds – something which is clearly no bar to practices agencies in York.

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  11. Hello.

    I have, been a landlord for many years. I have seen over the years changes in the way the house’s have been let, I have seen (which worry’s and makes me sad) how there is an air of panic in students the need to make rash choices, picking people to live with that they (you) have only known for a few weeks, I personal feel this has been fueled by letting agents.

    I have read the comments on this page with interest, I would like to advise students to take care and time when picking YOUR new home, ask question’s look around the house with wide open eyes ask for the gas certif, elec certif, how is my deposit protected? go back after a viewing ask the current students questions about the house and the landlord or agent also wait for the Uni housing list to come out before you all sign with that agent, meet the landlord. 1year to be in the wrong house is a long time.

    I post this with no discrimination to any one or agents but as a private landlord with a little advice I hope that will help.

    But you have time andplenty of house’s please

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  12. 22 Jan ’10 at 11:50 am

    Daniel Linderman

    Thank you “landlord”, i wish more landlords were like you. It certainly is ridiculous how students who have only just left home themselves are being forced and pressured into making huge decisions like this as quickly as possible. Landlords are making a fortune out of students, and so in return the least they could do is be kind, unpressuring and supportive in this big stage of their life. It’s the same when renewing your house to live in it for another year – there shouldn’t be any pressure to sign contracts and things as soon as possible, and their should be a degree of trust between landlords and tenants that if they say they’ll be staying in the house, that’s fine and the contracts etc will be done in due course and without pressure. I don’t like it how the landlords play on student’s ignorance, youth, and lack of experience in the world of housing – it should be the students who remember that there is more student housing than there are students and so they have the power to control the situation.

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  13. Maybe the partnership broke down because it was made up of two men and their wives, rather than the five ‘partners’ that a good business is made up of. Or, maybe this is a mistake made by a rather silly student, who didn’t think that women, once married, can have an identity in business other than as a ‘wife’. How about “Elizabeth MacMahon and her husband, Robert MacMahon”? No?

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  14. @ Sigh,

    It was indeed made up of 5 partners, although you wouldnt of thought so the way the 5th one was treated by two of the other partners!!!

    The only advice to students is take your time, dont be rushed into signing a tenancy agreement, there will be lots of nice houses still available right up to the end of June, and you will pay alot less in rent as the landlords and agents will be desperate for your business.

    Check that your deposit has been registered within the 14 days of handing it over as per the housing act, as this is a big thing the agents seem to forget to do on time!!!!!!

    Also when you move into any property make sure that all the certification is in place i.e. if a HMO is the certificate of show? have you got a valid gas certificate when moving in? it may be valid when you view the property but that could of been months ago, also you should be given a copy of this when you move in. have you got the relevent details for the deposit scheme your deposit is registered with?

    Hope that helps!!!

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  15. 28 Jan ’10 at 6:44 pm

    student househunter

    If the advert states that all-male groups are not allow then have a go at the landlord who made the request not the agency.

    Why shoot the messenger?

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  16. @ Student househunter – That is the point though, the agency should be refusing to deal with landlords who are sexist and racist on the grounds that it is illegal. The letting agent should inform the landlord that these preferences are illegal and they should reconsider their views. If this is not possible then the landlord should go privately and not sign up to a letting agency and see how well they do in drumming up their own business. Letting agents exist to vet landlords and ensure properties and landlords are up to scratch and this includes making sure the landlords are not rascist or sexist towards potential tenants. However, it is a shame that they only care about the cash and not about the ethics of their trade.

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