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When Your Landlord Is a Cat

It’s not just an urban legend.

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Corcoran broker Wendy Sarasohn’s 85-year-old client threw down the gauntlet recently: If her warring children didn’t find a way to get along, she said, she’d bequeath her Fifth Avenue apartment to her beloved pets. She was half-kidding—one hopes—and everyone jokes about such situations, usually in reference to the crazy cat lady next door. (If you don’t have one, perhaps you are one.) It’s not so far-fetched, though. A pair of cats really have owned an apartment, in New York City, in the 21st century. “It presented an odd set of circumstances,” remembers Brian Tormey of TitleVest, the title-insurance agency that handled the transaction, with a laugh. He’s willing to tell the story, though out of respect for his client’s privacy, he won’t name names.

Apparently, two sisters, who lived together and died within months of each other in late 1999, left their two-story, 1,400-square-foot home on 47th Avenue in Queens to their kitties. (The will appointed a female executor whose sole purpose was to tend the cats and the house. Essentially, she was there at their behest.) The sisters “were very nice. They loved the cats,” says their neighbor, a Mr. Sourek, whose yard abutted theirs. All was well until the guardian ­decided the animals would be ­better off on a farm ­somewhere—­upstate, perhaps, or in Pennsylvania. That’s when the story gets complicated, since the whole deal had been made on the assumption that she’d stay put, with the landlords. If they were even still alive. “You can get a birth certificate and identify them when they’re humans,” says Tormey. But the caretaker had taken in strays by the dozens, the house was overrun with cats, and nobody was sure exactly which were the owners. “[They] had free rein over the entire property,” including a pool out back, says Tormey. In the end, she got the green light to move. The cats—and the caretaker—did quite well, cashing out for just under $1 million. The house sits on a large parcel of land that the new buyer is now using for development.

“Nothing quite like this has ever come across our desk before,” says Tormey, who still finds the whole incident a mite surreal. Sarasohn’s irritated client, meanwhile, hasn’t made good on her threat—but it’s not outside the realm of possibility. “I wouldn’t be surprised if she did,” says Sarasohn. “The dogs are dining on filet mignon and living a wonderful life.”


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