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Exotic pets giving real estate brokers paws for thought

By Caitlin Abdo

Leave it to New Yorkers to move the goal posts on city living.

As national pet ownership soars to all-time highs, New York City’s real estate community has tales of clients with everything from a Jaguar to a teacup pig and everything in between.

Just as condo developers lay out a welcome mat for mutts, incorporating dog runs and spas into more and more buildings, residents have upped the ante on what kind of critters they want to keep as pets.

City Connections broker Mollie Bean said she got the fright of her life when she turned up to view a live / work space and came face to face with a Jaguar.


“The owners told me, ‘Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite.’ Yeah, right. I wouldn’t go in until he was out on the deck,” recalled Bean.


As New Yorkers gravitate towards more outrageous pet trends, they are mastering the secret housing of the animals.

It seems that if they can covertly transport the exotic pet into the building, they can remain there happily unless the animal becomes disruptive and draws attention to itself.

Million Dollar Listings star Ryan Serhant worked with one house-hunter with “something a little more unique” than a Shih-Tzu or teacup Terrier.

Serhant’s client, Alex, was interested in finding a duplex that would provide a floor for himself — and a floor for his pet kangaroo.

Serhant said the kangaroo was like a child to his client, with his needs just as important during the apartment search.

Although the celebrity broker wasn’t able to find a new space for Alex and his jumpy friend, the two are still living quietly in Tribeca.

Lawyer Aaron Shmulewitz had dealings with an Upper West Sider who kept a pack of wolves in his co-op.

All was well until the animals apparently saw a full moon over shining over Fifth Avenue and made their excitement felt among the neighbors. When the board call the health department, the wolf man was forced to find new accommodations for his four-legged friends with fangs.


Shmulewitz, a lawyer at Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, said that although section 161.01 of the Health Code of New York City bans the housing of a wild animal in residential buildings, pet owners do find ways around the regulations.


Rules against pets in apartment buildings have become increasingly lenient in the last 10 years, but now “the battle ground is shifting,” he said. “Board members are becoming increasingly afraid of potential liability.”

Dogs deemed “dangerous” have been banned in the city and breeds no longer welcome in otherwise dog-friendly buildings include Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinchers, Rottweilers, German Shepards, Huskies, and Chow-Chows, according to Shmulewitz.

According to Shmulewitz, “it’s hard to police against some of these animals” and in many cases, the city simply does not have the resources to seek out unorthodox pets. Authorities often only intervene when the animal makes itself known to neighbors or building inspectors.

It is particularly easy to house an unregulated animal in buildings without a doorman or regular visits from an inspector, building owner, or superintendent.

Shmulewitz attributed the rise in exotic animal ownership to the changing demographic profile of Manhattanites over the last 20 to 30 years. Many apartment owners and renters are now wealthy enough to afford the costs associated with the purchase and maintenance of wild animals.

While official numbers on alligators, snakes and kangaroos are hard to come by, the internet pet retailer VetDepot reported that pet ownership nationally is at an all-time high.

Some 73 million Americans — almost two-thirds of the population — own at least one pet. Nearly 40 million homes have a cat while dogs lay their heads in 46 million households.

According to the VetDepot survey, 70% of dog owners and almost 60% of cat owners view their pet as a child or family member and 70% said that the economy plays no role in determining how much they are willing to spend on their pets.

The result has been a corresponding loosening of pet ownership policies in buildings throughout the city.

Seth Hirschhorn, senior managing director of sales at Citi Habitats, sat as president of the co-op board in his building when it lifted the no-pet policy, allowing owners to house a single cat or dog up to 40 pounds. Anything beyond those limitations requires board approval.



Dog runs and spas are now also a common marketing tool of developers and the city has seen the number of doggie day cares, hotels and whisperers spike with the trend.

And although exotic animals may have to live in the shadows a while longer, Nestseekers broker Serhant is confident responsible animal lovers will always find a way to house them safely.

“At the end of the day, it’s a guy and his pet,” said Serhant, who comes home to his own teacup pig, Kevin Bacon, at the end of each day.  “New York is a lonely city. Everybody needs somebody to love.”

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  1. Exotic Pets for Sale
    Jun 19, 2013 - 09:17 PM

    Fascinating read. It is quite remarkable how important animals are to human beings. The part in the story about the jaguar was ridiculous. How can any human be so blindly delusional as to suggest with absolute certainty that their jungle cat will not bite!



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