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January 13, 2014- A Battery Park City grandfather, Roman Erikhman, age 76, who lives in the “Cove Club” at 2 South End, was sued in 2012 by his building’s condo board and building manager, Milford Management ( a division of Milstein Properties). The Cove Club plaintiffs accused Mr. Erikhman of harboring a large-breed Doberman Pincher in violation of the rules of the building. Mr. Erikhman claimed that the dog was needed as a “service dog”, since he is “deaf”. The whole mess is best summed up in this two-page decision by the judge, which is sending the matter to trial this year.
However, in a remarkable turn of events. Mr. Erikhman has convinced the State of New York, through its Division of Human Rights, to file a suit against Milford Management and the Cove Club, claiming that Mr. Erikhman is indeed handicapped and needs the dog, therefore his civil rights have been violated. The State seeks in excess of $150,000 in damages.
The consequences of this lawsuit are important. The case of Mr. Erikhman involves a “Service Dog”, which as a legitimate status assigned to trained dogs kept to aid handicapped. However, there is also a growing trend for unethical dog owners to abuse the special protections granted to handicap, by claiming that their dogs are “Therapy Dogs”, despite the owners having no physical handicap, and despite the “therapy” status being one that is unrecognized by any official agency.
Condo boards have been reluctant to do anything about dog owners who violate terms of leases, fearing that the protracted litigation would be too costly. Milford Management, for example, has several other dog owner issues that are generating complaints from tenants, yet Milford has not yet enforced the terms of the leases and acted in the courts.
The outcome of the Erikhman case, if the State wins, will send a chilling message to any condo association, restaurant, etc., trying to curb the abuses of unethical dog owners malingering as handicapped. A victory for the State would also be a victory for the truly handicapped people in need of real service dogs, not “therapy dogs”.