I have some very mixed feelings about BYU Approved Housing. The basic idea is that BYU students are only allowed to live in apartments that are officially BYU Approved. The following is the official explanation from the BYU Off-Campus Housing page.
Brigham Young University desires an environment for its single students living on and off campus that is conducive to their moral and spiritual growth as well as their academic performance. Because the university relies on the community to provide accommodations for most of its students, BYU has established housing guidelines and policies to cultivate such an environment for single students desiring to live off campus. BYU Housing personnel attempt to rectify any deviations from these standards and policies.
In theory I think this is a good idea. BYU students are all required to live by the BYU Honor Code. They agree to it before coming to the university. In my opinion the fact that all students have agreed to the Honor Code is a major characteristic of the school, and if anyone feels uncomfortable with agreeing to its terms, there are many of other fine schools out there. I don't mean that in a "You're not welcome" sense but more in a "You probably wouldn't like it here" sense. The idea behind BYU Approved Housing as I see it is that students can live in an environment conducive to the Honor Code. Additionally, the university makes requirements about the terms of the contracts which reduces disputes.
So that's the theory, and in some ways it actually works out that way, but I think that many of the Off-Campus Housing Office's policies harm students. In general, they place too much control on the housing market, which is consequently anything but a fair market.
Recent construction in Provo has created (gasp!) competition in the housing market. Then in Fall 2003 BYU announced new boundaries for BYU Approved Housing (effective April 2007). That's one way to solve the "problem," if you think competition is a bad thing. Which they do. In the press release the director of Residence Life said, "As the ever-increasing number of approved housing spaces continues to exceed the demand of BYU students, it makes sense to adjust the BYU-approved housing area." How horrible--competition.
Here's the Map of New Boundaries. In the announcement they say that these new boundaries encompass more than 90 percent of all current approved housing spaces. They make it sound like a minor thing, but cutting out 10 percent of all housing is about 2,300 spaces. That's a dramatic hit to the market in which supply barely covers demand.
I saw a quote when this was first announced where one of the BYU Housing people talked about how being closer to campus would be a spiritual and academic benefit to students (please let me know if you can find the actual quote). I disagree with that. I live right on the border, just barely inside the boundaries. I take the bus to school every day, which takes about ten minutes, and I could easily live another several miles from campus without any difficulty in my spiritual life or studies.
This policy is bad for students who in certain locations pay exorbitant prices for low-quality housing.
BYU Approved Housing has an awful problem with locking students into contracts. Most apartments require you to sign up for an entire year, and the only way to get out of your contract is to sell it to someone else. I think the main reason for this is that BYU keeps on artificially limiting the amount of housing so students simply don't have any negotiating power.
Take the example of someone getting married (which BYU, by the way, officially claims to encourage). I've seen this exact scenario happen. A guy, let's call him Joe, has an apartment. Joe decides to get married next semester. He tells his apartment complex management his plans several months in advance that he's planning on moving out, but they don't care because they can force him to keep on paying. So time goes on, and he gets married as planned. He has to move out because by BYU Housing policies his wife isn't allowed to move in with him. Fair enough. So he goes to his complex to check out. They take his key, do the cleaning check, and he's officially checked out. He's not allowed to enter his apartment anymore. But he still has his contract they won't let him out of. He still has to pay several hundred dollars every month in return for no goods or services--not even a key.
I'm not a lawyer, so I guess this is legal, but I'm certain it's not ethical. I am certain that it directly contradicts BYU's goals. And BYU could fix the problem in two ways: they could either allow competition to make a fair market, or they could make a clause that you can get out of a contract with one or two or three months notice.
Pricing is bloated in areas of BYU Approved Housing, especially south of campus. BYU Housing won't allow the market to normalize.
While BYU Housing claims to ensure that housing is safe and that apartment management is fair, they ignore problems. Every once in a while the newspaper prints an article about apartments literally falling apart that are still BYU Approved.
I'm sure there are other issues, but I've only lived in Off-Campus Housing about one year, which isn't long enough to see all of the problems. I'm also not sure what all of the causes are. I don't know if BYU Housing accepts bribes from apartment managers or if they are inept or if they just don't really care about students, but I can honestly say that I feel that they are very ineffective at carrying out their official purpose.