A picturesque little town on the shores of Lake Ontario has for decades served as the horrific playground on which one landlord—who owned and managed at least 50 properties—harassed, raped, and otherwise demeaned female tenants, a new Justice Department lawsuit claims.
On a spring day in Oswego, New York, a teenager went to look at an apartment, where Douglas Waterbury allegedly locked her in a rental unit, lifted her skirt, pushed her onto a couch, and raped her, according to the court documents.
The teen, who was allegedly attacked in May 2017, was apparently not alone. Waterbury groped and raped numerous women, intruded into their homes, and offered rent credit in exchange for sex, according to the complaint filed by the department Wednesday.
In fact, the filing describes decades of “egregious” harassment by Waterbury beginning as early as 1990. Waterbury, his wife, Carol, and residential-property companies E&A Management Co. and Ontario Realty are named as defendants. The complaint claims they all violated the Fair Housing Act, which is intended to prohibit discrimination.
Six low-income tenants of Waterbury’s filed claims against him last year.
The Justice Department claims Waterbury subjected prospective tenants and residents of his properties to “severe, pervasive, and unwelcome sexual harassment.” He allegedly pressured and forced numerous women to have sexual intercourse, oral sex, and other acts “in order to obtain or keep rental housing.”
In 2016, the landlord allegedly demanded one woman trade sex for housing benefits.
“Although the woman was in desperate need of housing and eventually became homeless, she continued to refuse,” the complaint alleges.
That same year, Waterbury threatened to evict a woman if she did not have sex with him, according to the lawsuit. She rejected all of his advances and “ultimately moved out of the house because of his relentless harassment and threats,” the lawsuit claims.
Those stories, according to the complaint, are just examples of “Waterbury’s longstanding pattern and practice” of harassment and assault, which caused prospective and actual tenants alike to “suffer physical harm, fear, anxiety, and emotional distress,” according to the suit.
“Subjecting tenants and those looking for housing to harassment and demands for sex is unacceptable,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore, of the Civil Rights Division, in a statement.
Grant C. Jaquith, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of New York, added, “Housing cannot be conditioned on submission to sexual harassment.”
The lawsuit seeks civil penalties, monetary damages to compensate the victims, and a court order barring future discrimination.
Waterbury reportedly did not respond to multiple attempts to contact him by local media.