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Relman, Dane & Colfax Sues Landlord for Practice of Demanding Sexual Favors from Low-Income Tenants

On August 8, 2017, Relman, Dane & Colfax filed a federal housing discrimination lawsuit against Oswego, New York landlord Douglas Waterbury, alleging that Waterbury demanded sexual favors from female tenants in exchange for lower rents and other benefits of tenancy. The plaintiffs in the case, six women and a northern New York local fair housing organization, describe Waterbury’s long-standing and pervasive pattern and practice of quid pro quo sex discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the New York State Human Rights Law’s prohibitions against sex discrimination.

The complaint describes how Waterbury assesses prospective tenants early in the application process to gauge whether he would later be able to take advantage of them. Waterbury often insists that women meet with him in person to discuss rental opportunities so he can determine their vulnerability. Waterbury has expressly asked “how desperate” the prospective tenants are to find housing. He often quotes an inflated monthly rent, which low-income prospective tenants invariably cannot pay, but then explains that if they perform sexual favors he can reduce the rental rate. Once women have rented units, he has shown up at their homes to demand sex and has let himself into their units without permission. On one occasion, Waterbury even physically prevented a prospective tenant from leaving until she complied with his demand for sex. As set forth in the complaint, Waterbury subjects women who refuse his sexual demands to higher rents, additional fees, and other penalties.

Each of the six individual plaintiffs are women who were victimized by Waterbury and who were told by Waterbury that they could pay for their units through sexual trades and favors. After receiving complaints about Waterbury’s conduct, the seventh plaintiff, CNY Fair Housing, Inc., a fair housing organization that serves Central and Northern New York, conducted an extensive investigation that uncovered Waterbury’s ongoing pattern of behavior that has affected a number of the approximately 50 properties in Oswego that he and his companies own.

The Firm’s litigation team is led by Jia Cobb, Megan Cacace, and Yiyang Wu.