SYRACUSE — Oswego landlord Douglas Waterbury on multiple occasions violated a court order requiring him to refrain from contacting tenants of his rental properties, according to a federal judge, who levied a $15,000 fine against the landlord last week.
Waterbury settled federal and civil lawsuits in 2019 that accused the landlord of violating the Fair Housing Act and subjecting former and prospective tenants to sexual harassment, unwanted sexual advances and touching without consent, along with offering to reduce or eliminate security deposits and rent in exchange for sex. As part of the settlements, Waterbury agreed to pay $850,000, hire a third-party property manager and stay away from tenants, a condition a federal judge last week said has been violated repeatedly.
U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino found Waterbury and his wife, Carol, in contempt of the settlements, also known as a consent decree, and handed down a $15,000 fine, in addition to ordering the Waterburys to cease performing any property management responsibilities and providing the court with a full accounting of all leases, rental income and other details.
An 18-page Sept. 22 court filing details several incidents in Morrisville and Oswego in which Waterbury and his wife violated the conditions of the settlements by managing and visiting Oswego properties and using an unapproved property management agency at an apartment complex in Morrisville.
Less than a year after the August 2019 settlements federal prosecutors in December 2020 said Waterbury was “flouting” the court’s decree by entering rental properties. Federal prosecutors continued to track the Waterburys’ violations, which included Carol Waterbury showing prospective tenants Oswego properties and Douglas Waterbury visiting Oswego properties for maintenance issues.
“Most troubling to the court is the clear and convincing evidence submitted by plaintiff of Douglas Waterbury’s conduct regarding his presence at various Oswego properties after the decree was issued,” D’Agositino wrote in her ruling, pointing out tenants observed the landlord exiting a unit in April 2020 and showing up when a water heater broke in May 2020, among other instances.
Several witnesses claimed to directly observe Douglas Waterbury entering multiple properties on the west side of the city of Oswego throughout 2020.
The Waterburys are also accused of skirting the consent decree and bypassing the court-mandated property manager by hiring an unapproved manager in Morrisville and not promptly sharing information with the court-approved property manager.
“The court finds clear and convincing evidence that defendants failed to comply with the decree at the 54-unit apartment building located at 55 E. Main St., Morrsville,” the judge wrote, later adding “well after the decree was entered” the Waterburys did not relinquish control of the Morrisville property as directed.
Throughout the summer of 2020, advertisements for the Morrisville property listed phone numbers associated with an unapproved property manager and Waterbury’s company Ontario Realty. An employee of the approved property manager, Lake Ontario Property Management (LOPM), told the court she observed individuals performing maintenance on the Morrisville property that were not affiliated with LOPM.
The court outlined several other incidents in which the Waterburys engaged directly with tenants in Oswego.
Waterbury in 2019 settled two lawsuits — one from DOJ and the other from Syracuse-based advocacy group CNY Fair Housing and eight women — related to the landlord’s decades of predatory and discriminatory behavior toward the tenants of his Oswego area rental properties. Multiple women claimed Waterbury pressured them for sexual favors using his position as their landlord as leverage in a “pattern of severe, pervasive and unwelcome sexual harassment,” according to DOJ.
By December 2020, the DOJ claimed Waterbury ignored the terms of the consent decree from the start. A local real estate firm was hired to manage Waterbury’s properties, but prosecutors said Waterbury and his associates made the job nearly impossible by withholding information.
As part of the terms of his settlements, Waterbury was ordered to pay a total of $850,000 and agreed to remove himself entirely from the business of property management. Through the settlement, Waterbury was enjoined from “engaging in contact or communication with current or past tenants, entering any of the subject properties or engaging in intimidating, threatening or interfering conduct.”
According to DOJ filings from 2019, Waterbury, his business partner, and two related entities operated what prosecutors called an extensive real estate business involving more than 50 residential rental properties in and around Oswego, and the landlord took or threatened to take adverse action against residents when they refused or objected to his advances. The DOJ allegations dated back to the 1990s.
CNY Fair Housing alleged Waterbury preyed “upon women who need low-rent housing” and aggressively pursued sexual favors from women seeking to rent apartments. The lawsuit accused Waterbury of making discriminatory statements based on sex and retaliating against women who rejected his sexual advances. According to CNY Fair Housing, Waterbury used women’s vulnerability and his control over their housing to force them into unwanted sex acts.
The CNY Fair Housing lawsuit claimed Waterbury created a pervasive and hostile environment for women in desperate need of housing between 2012 and 2017. The initial lawsuit alleged the landlord made sexual contact and/or offers of sex in exchange for rent, and an updated filing in November 2017 added two women to the complaint and included allegations of sexual assault.
Allegations in the CNY Fair Housing suit included Waterbury coercing women into engaging in unwanted sexual acts, and the filing described two women who said Waterbury conditioned rent on their agreement to have sex with him in 2015. According to CNY Fair Housing, both plaintiffs, desperate for housing, “reluctantly acquiesced to his demands in order to lease an apartment from him.”