Is It Legal to Own a Sloth in NYC?

In Premises Liability by Michele Mirman

Sloths have become quite popular in recent years. They’re cute and funny. They’re beloved by Veronica Mars star Kristen Bell. It’s no surprise that more and more people have shown an interest in having a sloth as a pet.

Is this something you can do if you live in New York City? Is it legal to own a sloth? Under current New York law, there’s nothing that would prohibit you from having a sloth as a pet. However, there’s probably in your association rules or rental agreement that prohibits you from bringing an exotic pet onto the premises.

New York’s Exotic Animal Laws

Many states have laws that specifically prohibit individuals from keeping certain exotic animals – including sloths – as pets in their households. New York is not one of those states. In New York, under  NY AGRI & MKTS § 370, you’re only prohibited from owning wild animals. 

Specifically, it’s a crime to own, possess, or harbor “a wild animal or reptile capable of inflicting bodily harm upon a human being.” 

New York law defines “wild animal” to include:

  • Nonhuman primates and prosimians
  • Cats (other than domesticated cats)
  • Dogs (other than domesticated dogs and captive fennec foxes)
  • Bears
  • Venomous reptiles (with a few exceptions), and
  • Crocodiles.

Wild animals specifically exclude companion animals, such as cats, dogs, birds, and other animals commonly kept as pets.

In New York City, the list of prohibited animals is even longer. It includes giraffes, iguanas, camels, sheep, koalas, squirrels, and a host of other creatures. 

Sloths do not fall into any of these categories, making it legal to own one as a pet. 

Your Landlord or Building Association Might Prohibit Exotic Animals

Just because New York state law is silent on owning sloths doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to keep one in your home. If you rent an apartment or home in NYC, you’ll want to check your rental agreement for language concerning pets.

Landlords can be held financially responsible for harm or damage caused by pets, so many have strict pet policies. Some landlords don’t allow pets, at all. Others limit you to one or two pets, and those usually have to be dogs or cats. Many rental agreements contain clauses that prohibit tenants from having exotic pets on the premises. Sloths would certainly fall under this classification.

Even if you own your own home, you might still not have total authority to say what you can and cannot have in that home. There’s a good chance you belong to a building association. That association likely has rules concerning the number and type of pets you’re allowed to have. Sloths, an exotic animal, might not make the cut.

You’ll Probably Be Liable If Your Sloth Hurts Anyone

Let’s say there’s nothing standing in the way of your owning a sloth as a pet in New York City. That’s great! However, you’ll have to be really careful and make sure that your sloth doesn’t hurt anyone. Even though they’re generally slow-moving creatures, they’re still wild creatures. They still have the ability to cause a lot of harm if they attack.

Under New York State law, you’ll be strictly liable for any harm caused by your pet sloth. That means that it doesn’t matter how much care you took in preventing yoru sloth from hurting another person. It doesn’t matter if you did everything you could to keep others safe around your sloth. The fact that your sloth was able to injure or kill someone else is enough to trigger liability.

When your pet sloth hurts someone else, that person might choose to file a personal injury lawsuit against you. You can be financially responsible for a victim’s damages, which might include:

  • Medical bills and expenses
  • Rehabilitation
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Disfigurement and scarring
  • Lost wages and income
  • Disability, and more.

You’ll have to decide if the risk of owning a sloth is worth the potential consequences if someone gets hurt.