Lawsuit against University House to move to trial

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Plan II sophomore Rylan Maksoud attends a court hearing at the Travis County Courthouse on August 21. Maksoud filed a lawsuit against University Housing in January for illegally terminating his lease. The case is set to be argued before a jury on November 2.

Photo Credit: Joshua Guenther | Daily Texan Staff

After Plan II sophomore Rylan Maksoud found out his lease with a West Campus apartment complex had been illegally terminated in January, he vowed to pursue every legal avenue open to him.

But first, Maksoud created a website detailing his negative experiences with the complex, University House, which garnered thousands of views and led other students to share their experiences with UH.

Flash forward eight months later, what started as Maksoud’s virtual complaint against the apartment complex will end in a jury trial set for Nov. 2, after a Travis County judge dismissed UH’s plea to settle the case in a hearing on Tuesday.

“I’m just glad that it didn’t go away quietly,” Maksoud said. “My only goal was that everyone finds out what’s happening.”

UH severed their lease contracts with Maksoud and multiple other students after an error caused the housing agency to overbook, The Daily Texan reported in January.

Nelson Mock, a landlord-tenant attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said Maksoud should be compensated for the damages he suffered after UH terminated his lease.

“If a landlord signed a lease with a tenant and doesn’t comply with that contract, then the landlord is obviously responsible for any damages that would result,” Mock said. “I suspect that they would agree that they violated the lease with him. The question is just what the damages are.”

UH representatives and its parent company The Scion Group could not be reached for comment.

UH extended a settlement offer to Maksoud in January, offering to pay $2880 in damages if he took down his website and refrained from posting similar content in the future.

Maksoud, however, refused to take the offer on the grounds that it violated his free speech rights and filed a lawsuit against University House for triple his damages and court costs on June 14.

“I said, ‘That’s not acceptable,’” Maksoud said. “I’m not going to take any offer that requires me to take down my website.”

Mock said is it unlikely UH can keep Maksoud from posting negative statements about their complex if he does not agree to their settlement.

“As much as any party, including this apartment complex, might say that those terms are a customary or normal thing, my response is that (they are) not,” Mock said. “I would normally never negotiate terms like that.”

Maksoud demanded a trial by jury, but UH asked for the case to be temporarily suspended because Maksoud was 17 when he sent them notice of the lawsuit. 

After Maksoud affirmed he would not alter the notice, Travis County Judge Nicholas Chu denied suspension of the case. The judge also denied the agency’s plea for mediation and said the case had been postponed enough. 

Roshni Edalur, a health and society sophomore, was a freshman when she signed a lease with UH in September 2017. She also got a termination email from the housing agency in December. 

“I think that if (Maksoud) were to win, it would show that they definitely did something wrong, which we already knew,” Edalur said. “It’s just making it a little bit more public. I respect that.”

Maksoud said even if the resolution is not the one he wants, the lawsuit itself is a statement. 

“I think the whole lawsuit is a victory for principles,” said Maksoud, who represented himself. “(Specifically), the principle that college students shouldn’t be taken advantage of.”

Editor's note: Rylan Maksoud is a at-large student member of the Texas Student Media Board, which oversees The Daily Texan.