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Deaf Grandfather Fights Battery Park City Condo Board to Keep Service Dog

By Irene Plagianos | January 13, 2014 9:35am
 Hearing-impaired Roman Erikhman, right, pets his former service dog, Big Honey John, while seated at home with his five grandsons.
Hearing-impaired Roman Erikhman, right, pets his former service dog, Big Honey John, while seated at home with his five grandsons.
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Stella Erikhman-Jacobson

BATTERY PARK CITY — A deaf grandfather is locked in a legal battle with his Battery Park City condo board, fighting to keep a service dog his board wants out of the building.

Roman Erikhman, 76, claims in a lawsuit — filed by the New State Division of Human Rights on Erikhman's behalf in Manhattan Supreme Court last week — that the Cove Club Condominium has been discriminating against him, trying to force him to give up a service dog because the Doberman Pinscher doesn’t fit with the board’s “no big dogs” policy.

“It’s just miserable — I don’t know why they are doing this to us,” said Erikhman’s daughter, Stella Erikhman-Jacobson, who also owns a condo at the 2 South End Ave. building. “To us, the board trying to take away a needed service dog from an ailing man just makes no sense.”

According to the suit, the condo board demanded that Erikhman, who has a hearing impairment caused by a brain tumor, give up his first service dog in August 2012, less than a month after Erikhman purchased the pooch, named Big Honey John.

When Erikhman didn’t comply, the board sued him in November 2012, attempting to push out the dog. That case is still pending, but Erikhman decided to fight back in the meantime. He filed a claim with the New York Division of Human Rights, which investigated and took up the case, according to court documents.

“We’re thrilled to have them advocating for us,” Erikhman-Jacobson said. “It’s not right what the board has put my very sick father through.”

The suit is asking the Cove Club condo board to allow Erikhman to keep a service dog and to pay him up to $150,000 in civil fines and compensatory damages.

Since the board sued in 2012, Big Honey John died, but Erikhman replaced him with a new Doberman Pinscher. The puppy, named Scooby, will soon start its hearing assistance training, said Erikhman-Jacobson, who co-owns the pup with her dad.

Hearing assistance dogs, much like seeing eye dogs, can help compensate for their lost perception, according to court documents. For example, in October 2012, Big Honey John alerted Erikhman to a faucet that he left running, something that could have caused a flood, the lawsuit said.

While the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Erikhman, the dogs have actually lived with Erikhman-Jacobson in her neighboring condo in the building, according to the lawsuit. They did so because Erikhman's wife is allergic and because it would have been a burden to them to care for the dog themselves, according to the lawsuit.

The Cove Club board did not return calls for comment.