Like many University of Texas freshmen, Rylan Maksoud was looking forward to moving out of his dorm to an apartment off campus in the fall.
He signed a lease in September with the University House Apartments on San Antonio Street and put down a deposit. Then, in December, he got an email saying that the contract was being “mutually terminated.”
The aspiring law student says he read through the lease carefully before signing. After he got the email, he reread the document and felt something was off
“The lease actually says that the contract is binding on the owner, and that they are required to provide me with a unit in their complex,” Maksoud says. “And they just said, ‘No.’”
As first reported by The Daily Texan, several students say their leases with the University House Apartments were terminated due to overbooking. Staff at the property declined interview requests, as did representatives of the Scion Group, which runs the apartments. Scion previously told KXAN News that the overbooking stemmed from a software issue.
Maksoud eventually created a website documenting his experience and warning other students not to lease with University House. That prompted more back and forth with the Scion Group.
Maksoud says the company eventually offered him a settlement agreement that included the return of his deposit and additional compensation. But it came with a stipulation that he could no longer talk about his experience publicly, so he refused to sign. Instead, he filed complaints with the Texas attorney general and the Better Business Bureau.
Maksoud says the experience has highlighted the lack of protections for student renters, who are often signing leases for the first time.
“Many students feel like they’re being taken advantage of,” he says. “I believe the City Council should look into this honestly, maybe pass some better protections for students, maybe make it easier to make complaints, because many students don’t know that they can make complaints. They don’t know that they have rights.”
Juliana Gonzales, executive director of the nonprofit Austin Tenants Council, says overbooking cases have happened before, but it’s unusual of hear of one being handled this way.
“To my mind, what would be fair is that the landlord would arrange to compensate or negotiate with the tenants who are being displaced,” Gonzales says. “I just think it’s real important for people to understand that what Rylan did in this situation [reading the lease carefully] is exactly what we’re hoping that all tenants do before they sign.”
Maksoud has secured another apartment for the next school year, though he says his rent is about $200 more a month than he would have paid at University House. He says his legal negotiations are ongoing, and he hopes to get compensation for all the students affected by the broken leases.