College student tells cautionary tale when it comes to renter’s rights

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A college student’s case against a property management company is shedding light on a common problem in Indiana.

For years, landlords have been taking tenants to court for unpaid fees. But what happens when renters feel those fees are unjust?

Umar Shah found out.

“When you have the truth on your side, it gave us a little bit more confidence," said Shah.

Shah said in 2017, Granite Student Living accused him of flushing Clorox wipes down the toilet, causing plumbing damage. He said he didn’t do it, but they charged him about $2,700 anyway.

“It wasn’t right, you know?” said Shah.

So, he got an attorney, won the jury trial, won the appeal and was awarded $5,000 in damages. Though it took years to get to this point, Shah said he did it for other renters.

“Now there is actual case law that would help them out to seek justice,” said Shah.

However, rental companies are taking notice and making changes after cases like Shah's.

Granite Student Living changed its leasing contract to take away a tenant’s right to a jury.

Shah said renters shouldn’t sign that contract, and his attorney Duran Keller agreed.

“A contract is supposed to be a two-sided thing, and the problem is with these landlord-tenant contracts, they never start off that way," said Keller. "And most people don’t know they have the ability to change things in the contract.”

Keller would like to see Indiana lawmakers pass a law similar to other states that makes sure the winning side gets attorney fees.

Currently in Indiana, some companies are writing contracts that require they’ll be the only one to get the fees if they win.

“My hope in this is that other attorneys around Indiana will start considering representing tenants who haven’t done anything wrong because they don’t know the ins and outs of the legal process,” said Keller.

Shah said he’s lucky an attorney was willing to help him. Had he lost, Shah would have been responsible for up to $100,000 in attorney fees. However, he said it was worth the risk to send this message.

“Don’t be afraid to stand up when you think there’s an injustice going on,” said Shah.

Granite Student Living did not respond to our request for comment on this story.

At this time, it’s unclear whether state lawmakers will take up this issue in the coming session.

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