The real cost of housing

Will a YUSU Housing Agency work, and do we even need one? Deputy Editor Ed Rollett investigates the state of housing in York

Philippa Grafton

Philippa Grafton

The New Year heralds the start of the housing season. Freshers who have known each other for three months will now commit themselves to a further 18 months of blissful co-habitation or a stream of domestics over washing up and bills. And so it is time to ask just what is housing like in York and can YUSU actually achieve anything of note with its proposed lettings agency?

A recent survey for accomodationforstudents.com found that the average UK student rent is now £79.42, forced higher by increasing rents in the South and especially in London where even the cheapest rooms can cost more than £100. Rent in the North is cheaper, with Leeds averaging at £74 and Sheffield on £69. It will come as no surprise to most students that York is more expensive than local institutions, with an average weekly rent of £77.96 for the 476 properties listed on the Adam Bennett and Sinclair property websites, although this is still significantly cheaper than the £87 average in Kent and £90 in Bournemouth.

The availability of private sector accommodation in York, predictably, has no definitive answer. The university guidance is that there is a good supply in the city and that students should wait until February to search for a property. On the other hand, lettings agencies will try their best to tell you that there a shortage and all the good houses will go quickly. Student satisfaction for off-campus accommodation does appear to also show that the majority of this housing stock is good as well. Over 90 per cent of York’s student housing was considered to be average or better, with over 70 per cent rated as good or excellent.

After last terms poorly turned out referenda the lack of debate over the issues has been criticised, with Kallum Taylor, the YUSU President, calling it “embarrassing”. Therefore, with ‘To Let’ boards springing up across the city it is time to properly consider what YUSU can hope to achieve with its proposal to develop its own lettings agency.

The details of how the agency will work are sketchy at the minute but the hopes are it will improve quality and help keep rents low. The existence of the current University-approved housing list shows that some efforts are being made by the university to do this.

However, the limited success of this list indicates that students are not engaging with what the university already offers. In the YUSU Housing Survey of the 84.7 per cent of students who had heard of the approved list only 42.6 per cent actually used it. Even then the list often failed to meet the requirements of students, with several commenting that even through using the list their accommodation was poor quality or their landlords were inadequate.

The ability of the YUSU agency to compete with the major letting agencies in York could also be called into doubt. If the agency will expect landlords to lower rents and improve standards in order to list with them there is no incentive for them do so, and without the support of landlords the agency will fail. The YUSU report found that students chose their house because they liked the property and that the letting agent was inconsequential. If YUSU cannot offer an incentive which benefits the landlords, they will struggle to attract any properties.

All this suggests that a union-run lettings agency may have a limited impact. Housing in York is of a high quality and not overly expensive already. Taylor’s hopes that the situation can be further improved appear optimistic given that currently less than half of all students interact with the help available, and even if more were willing to do so it would require the support of landlords as well. YUSU needs to ask itself if this project is really worth the money when there are a whole range of other areas where the money could be put to use.

4 comments

  1. I understand what you are trying to say, but the lack of success of the PRS list run by the University is an argument for, not against, the introduction of a YUSU ran lettings agency. The PRS standards imposed by the University list are self-accredited by landlords – namely, the landlords themselves tick various boxes saying they meet energy efficiency criteria etc. It does nothing to lower rents and these standards are not effectively enforced. Often these properties are also advertised elsewhere through other lettings agents. The PRS list is a very distinct entity to a separately run lettings agency.

    ‘If the agency will expect landlords to lower rents and improve standards in order to list with them there is no incentive for them do so, and without the support of landlords the agency will fail.’

    The principle behind this is not that the YUSU run lettings agent would force the landlord to lower rents. The idea is two-fold. Firstly, that it could be a not-for-profit agent which imposes fewer costs on the landlords for advertising the properties, and remove costs entirely for tenants to renew tenancies or for misc admin fees. Landlords such as Adam Bennett and Sinclair are expensive for PRS landlords to join or advertise through, and these costs are passed directly onto the tenants. Often tenants then have to pay ‘renewal fees’ for taking on a tenancy for a second year or even general agency costs on sign-up.

    Secondly, that by offering this cheaper solution for landlords, that this will have a market distorting effect and stabilise the student rental market. Rents offered through the major landlords in York have ballooned in recent years and this is pure opportunism – a YUSU ran lettings agency would go some way to slowing this rise or at least challenging the big agent stronghold.

    ‘The YUSU report found that students chose their house because they liked the property and that the letting agent was inconsequential.’

    This is probably true, but the dominance of AB, Sinclair and IG is what causes problems. Most undergrads I speak to only look at those three lettings agents, which gives them a great deal of power in setting overall market rents. Keep in mind some decent properties advertised by individual landlords on the Uni PRS list have rents as low at £55-60 per week. The letting agents become consequential because it’s the ones that target students aggressively which have the largest impact.

    ‘Housing in York is of a high quality and not overly expensive already.’

    The short of it is that many first year students are getting thoroughly ripped off. The problem is disproportionate increases in rent costs year-on-year as opposed to base line rents in comparison to the rest of the UK market. Keep in mind the vast majority of PRS properties in York are owned by small-time landlords (often fairly highly leveraged) on buy-to-let mortgages who are desperate to find tenants as quickly as possible -this is why a small number of lettings agents have such a stronghold over the market.

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    • Massive agenda from Jed methinks! Many first year students are getting ripped off?!?

      Would these be the first years on campus paying a minimum of £125pw?

      Most undergrads you speak to only use 3 agents, quite a disservice to AP, 2let, whistles, Union wouldn’t you say?

      Think you need to read and hear the research carried out by Nouse rather than correct them with your almighty pomp.

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      • Sorry, on reading it this morning you’re right it’s quite pompous! I’d had a couple of glasses of wine before seeing the article, so commenting probably wasn’t such a good idea!

        You’re also right to say that on campus PFI rents are incredibly high, but this doesn’t mean PRS rents should follow.

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  2. “Rents offered through the major landlords in York have ballooned in recent years and this is pure opportunism.”

    On the contrary. From a survey of over 5,000 rooms advertised in York each year the average rent for 2012/13 was £76.45 compared to £76.72 for 2014/15.

    “On the other hand, lettings agencies will try their best to tell you that there a shortage and all the good houses will go quickly.”

    Not quilty on the first point, but we would agree that the better houses will go more quickly. We have always said this, see:

    http://www.apyork.com/student_properties/student_advice.htm

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