WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind (WLFI) — A Purdue student said Granite Management accused him for damages he did not cause. He took it to a jury and won. It's a risk he hopes others will be brave enough to take.
"I wanted to take this case because he wanted to stand up for all of the Purdue students, all of the tenants that end up getting screwed over by these people," said Attorney Duran Keller.
He represented Umar, the Purdue student who won a lawsuit against Granite in August. Umar has asked that we not share his last name in the web story for future job searching purposes.
Keller said what happened to Umar isn't rare but the fact he took it to trial, is unheard of.
"Landlords or the property management company often writes up these contracts and they're so very one sided," said Keller.
Umar's contract with Granite Management called for attorneys fees if the company prevailed in a lawsuit. Therefore, the more Umar fought, the more he would risk paying if he lost. In November of 2017, Granite was asking for more than $30,000 if they won. But the trial didn't happen until nine months later. So, who knows how much money they would have requested by then.
"You have to ask yourself, would this company have continued with this case and gone all the way to a jury trial worth $2,000 or $3,000 in damages if they weren't going to get anything more than that? I think the answer is pretty obvious," said Keller.
The jury ended up siding with Umar and ordered Granite to pay him more than $5,000. But Keller said most students don't even bother showing up to court.
"My fear for the students is that they don't show up, they're going to graduate from Purdue, they're going to move on they're going to get a job and at some point they're going to get a house and they're going to see they have a judgment on their credit for $3,000, $4,000 dollars after interest and they're going to have to pay that off because they never showed up to court, they never defended themselves," said Keller.
This lawyer thinks it's time lawmakers get involved.
"I would love if the State of Indiana, the Legislature, would write something that said anytime there's a landlord tenant situation, or any sort of a debt collector, that you get attorneys fees whoever the prevailing party is," said Keller. "Cause it's not fair that it'd just be so one sided and this lease was completely one sided."
But until then he said people need to read what they are signing.
"Cross out that portion that says you agree to pay reasonable attorneys fees because that gives them an incentive to bring a lawsuit against you," said Keller.
Keller said Granite is different in that the owner of Gutwein Law firm is also an owner of Granite Management.
"They actually have a benefit for suing people because if they get attorneys for it then you get paid even more," said Keller.
Keller and Umar hope more students fight back.
"Now that doesn't mean don't pay your rent, that doesn't mean don't pay for damages that you actually cause," said Keller. "But it means don't let people get away with charging you for something that you didn't cause."
If you're not getting what you were promised in the lease, Keller says don't be afraid to take it up in court. A landlord is required by law to keep your property in good and working order.
"Which means a bunch of different things. You need to have a plumbing system in good and working order, there needs to be a reasonable supply of hot and cold water at all times," explained Keller. "If the place has mold in it, and it's not habitable, that's something they need to repair within a reasonable amount of time."
If you'd like to learn more, Keller is speaking at a Know your Rights Landlord and Tenant Law symposium on October 23 at Purdue.