Fair-Housing Group Takes on Renaissance Fest’s Lordling

SYRACUSE (CN) –  A New York landlord faces a federal complaint from fair-housing advocates alleging that he exploited vulnerable, low-income women by forcing a trade of housing benefits for sexual favors.

Filed on Aug. 8 in New York’s Northern District, the 33-page complaint is led by CNY Fair Housing Inc. and six women who claim that Oswego landlord Douglas Waterbury subjected them to the sex-based housing propositions.

Operating under the handles Ontario Reality Inc. and Empire Attractions, Waterbury owns nearly 50 upstate New York properties, including theme parks such as the Sterling Renaissance Festival, Sylvan Beach Amusement Park and Santa’s Workshop in Essex County’s North Pole.

CNY Fair Housing brought its suit under the Fair Housing Act, which protects against discrimination based on gender in housing-related transactions.

The complaint accuses Waterbury, a father of four, of quoting inflated rental prices to prospective female tenants as part of predatory pattern to negotiate unwelcome sexual favors based on their vulnerability and desperation.

According to the complaint, Waterbury will explicitly ask women “how desperate” or “how dedicated” they were for housing, often proposing “creative” trades that turn out to be sexual favors.

Prospective tenants “understood that if they did not continue to have sex with him, they and their young children would be evicted,” according to the complaint.

Waterbury allegedly told one plaintiff: “You won’t have to pay a security deposit if you give me head,” physically blocking her from exiting an apartment until she complied with his demand for oral sex.

In what the complaint calls a “flagrant abuse of his power and authority,” Waterbury allegedly showed up to tenants’ homes “unannounced to demand sex as payment for rent, and he has even let himself into the rental unit without permission by using the key he held as landlord.”

CNY Housing says the women who rejected Waterbury’s carnal demands faced higher rents, deposits and fees; other women were unable to rent a property altogether.

Tenants who sought maintenance repairs were also subjected to Waterbury’s insistence on “favors.”

Ranging in age from 24 to 32, the individual plaintiffs claim to have been sexually harassed by Waterbury in connection with their attempts to secure housing between 2012 and 2017.

The complaint calls for punitive damages, citing emotional distress and economic loss as a direct result of Waterbury’s aggressive harassment and discrimination.

Waterbury declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday afternoon.

Sally Santangelo, the executive director of CNY Fair Housing, released a statement in conjunction with the lawsuit. “These allegations are obviously incredibly disturbing,” Santangelo said in a statement. “No woman should have to be subjected to sexual harassment, especially at their home, the place where they should feel their safest.”

Santangelo pledged an ongoing effort protect the rights of female tenants. “CNY Fair Housing will continue to do everything we can to protect the rights of women and hold perpetrators accountable,” she said. “Any woman who has been harassed by their landlord should know they can contact us to fight for their rights to a safe place to live.”

The case is being presided over by U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino.

CNY Fair Housing is represented by in-house counsel Conor Kirchner.

Pro hac vice admission is sought for attorneys at the Washington, D.C., firm Relman Dane & Colfax.

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