Last Thursday, as NYC was bracing for an unprecedented shutdown to curb the spike in COVID-19 cases, Amy S. received an email from her landlord. For the last eighteen months, she and her husband had been renting a one bedroom in Hell's Kitchen for $3,200/month. Given the uncertainty of the moment — and the fact that Amy is expecting to soon be unemployed — they had no intention of moving out when their lease expires at the end of May.

But at a time when so many New Yorkers are racked with anxiety about their own survival, one major Manhattan landlord is finding new ways to squeeze money from the escalating public health crisis.

"We have high demand for medical personal [sic] coming to NYC with Javits center turning into a hospital," the president of the luxury real estate company wrote to the couple, referencing his building's proximity to the new makeshift hospital intended to help treat an anticipated surge in novel coronavirus patients.

As a result of that "demand," the landlord would have no choice but to hike the tenants' rent to $4,000/month under the new lease, according to emails shared with Gothamist. The 25 percent jump was "at this time the best we can offer," a representative for the landlord wrote in another email.

(At the tenants' request, we've agreed to withhold the identity of the landlord until the couple figures out their legal options; we'll update when that changes).

A website for the company boasts that their real estate holdings are worth more than one billion dollars. They're also a member of the Real Estate Board of New York. James Whelen, the REBNY president, said in a statement to Gothamist that it was "reprehensible for anyone to take advantage at a time of humanitarian crisis. Now is the time for everyone to work collaboratively to help each other.”

Amy, who works remotely for a bookstore in San Francisco and has already seen her hours slashed, said she was "shocked and terrified" by the exorbitant increase.

"We're worried about our families, we're worried about what's going to happen, and now we're worried that we're going to be forced to move," she told Gothamist. "It feels like extortion."

Housing attorneys say the landlord's decision, while perhaps morally repugnant, is perfectly legal under existing city and state rent laws. (Inquiries to the Governor's Office and City Hall were not returned).

"The fact that a landlord is taking the opportunity to rent gouge his or her tenants during this crisis is horrifying," said Ellen Davidson, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society. "But as long as they've complied with notice requirements, it's completely legal."

While Governor Cuomo has claimed that he "took care of the rent issue" by implementing a moratorium on evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, housing advocates and attorneys say the measure doesn't come close to providing the relief needed by NYC tenants.

The governor has so far declined to back a proposal from the state legislature that would cancel rent for the next three months. And he has long been silent on the so-called "good cause" eviction bill backed by most tenant organizers — a policy that would block Amy's landlord from this sort of rent gouging, according to Davidson.

Without such protections, New Yorkers should expect similarly predatory behavior from their landlords, Davidson said. "I expect [the landlord] will also turn around and try to get all the bailout money that's possible for him as a business person," she added.

For the moment, Amy says she's unsure what she and her husband will do next. While they can't afford the rent hike, she also feels it's not safe to be apartment-hunting given that all New Yorkers are supposed to isolate if they can. "I'm worried we're stuck with whatever the landlord decides," she said.

"If they're doing this to me, they're doing this to everyone," Amy added. "I can't imagine what other shenanigans are going on in this city right now."

This is the first story in an ongoing series tracking landlord behavior during the COVID-19 crisis. If you have a story you'd like to share, send us an email at tips@gothamist.com

UPDATE: Following publication of this story, a spokesperson for City Hall confirmed that the city's restrictions on price gouging "only apply to goods that New Yorkers may use to combat COVID-19, such as face masks, hand sanitizer and wipes."