Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Help Me Howard: Top Seven Troubles of 2008
The calls, e-mails, faxes pour in by the thousands, all from South Floridians with nowhere else to turn, looking for a little help. That's, of course, where Help Me Howard enters the picture. But in 2008, some troubles trumped others in sheer volume. Here's Patrick Fraser, with this year's top seven worst problems.
WSVN -- Patrick Fraser: "Happy New Year, everybody. I'm Patrick Fraser with a look at the top seven troubles you faced in 08."
Howard Finkelstein: "And I'm Howard Finkelstein, and once again tens of thousands of you contacted us this year for help."
Patrick Fraser: "Unfortunately that means thousands of you have problems you just can't seem to solve."
Howard Finkelstein: "So let's get to the top seven and take a look at number seven, people and their pets. From barking dogs to pet pigs, people love their animals."
One big issue this year came from Miami-Dade, where people were not told their animals needed their annual rabies shot. Instead, the county waited until it was too late and fined them. After hundreds of complaints, the county listened and started sending out the renewal notices. Another common complaint, dogs that seem dangerous.
Patrick Fraser: "We often hear from people who ask, 'Does a dog have to bite me before I can do anything?'"
Howard Finkelstein: "Usually, yes. Until a dog bites a person or another animal, the law does not consider them a dangerous dog. Just a dog."
Someone running for political office once said, "It's the economy, stupid," and in '08 many of our calls were caused by the economy. At number six, work issues. Like most of us, many companies are struggling to survive. Often, the first place it shows, the employees paychecks.
The agency Lisa worked for shut down. A few weeks later, she got paid.
Patrick Fraser: "It's tough for a person. Do you say enough is enough and walk away or do you hang on and hope they survive?"
Howard Finkelstein: "There really is no clear answer. It's going to depend upon how much you trust the business owner, and if you don't get paid, contact the Department of Labor or go to small claims court."
Number five is tied to the bad economic times as well, medical issues.
Lisa's little girl would soon die, but a lab kept billing Lisa $2500 for a test that was canceled. Ronald's insurance refused to pay for a device that would keep his son alive. Typical of what we hear about some insurance companies, labs and hospitals all the time.
Howard Finkelstein: "The answer is persistence. Check your policies, your paperwork, and if you feel you are right, follow their appeal procedures and don't give up because that's what they are counting on."
In years past, auto headaches would be at the top, but in '08 the economy pushed it down to number four. For some reason we heard from a lot of drivers who filled their cars with bad gas this year.
But the biggest headache car buyers got was driving off the lot told they had financing only to find out a few days later they didn't and needed to bring in more cash or the car.
Howard Finkelstein: "Get your financing before you go from your bank or credit union. It's that simple. That will make it easier and cheaper for you."
Number three, condo associations. If we took away all the complaints people have about their associations, we might have to go out and find real jobs.
Lewis had to pull a MacGyver to avoid getting soaked at night, but his association refused to admit there was a leak. The brain surgeons at Natalia's association decided the best way to keep track of owners' cars was to put their home address on their parking decals.
Patrick Fraser: "Howard, I am convinced if you take a sane, sensible person and put them on a condo board, they instantly lose their minds. What can you do to protect yourself from those board members who are supposed to be taking care of you?"
Howard Finkelstein: "The only way is to get involved. Attend every meeting or get on the board yourself."
Well, we mentioned "supposed to be taking care of you." It brings us to the second biggest headache, government agencies.
Stephen is sick of getting taxed to death by the city, county and state. Ruth was irritated that the city fined her for a car in her front yard, and Silvia was worried that a noisy city generator would leave her hard of hearing.
Patrick Fraser: "Howard, we were able to help Ruth and Silvia. City officials listened, but in so many cases people complain to government officials and get nowhere. You moonlight as a government bureaucrat, what can people do?"
Howard Finkelstein: "If you are not happy with the bureaucrats and can't get them to listen, contact the elected officials. Those are the people you put in office and they are the people you can take out of office. Let them try to get the bureaucrats to do their jobs."
And the biggest problem this year, number one, no surprise, foreclosures.
Marianne wasn't going into foreclosure, her landlord was. He wasn't paying the mortgage on the condo, but he didn't tell her and was happy to take her rent money and stick it in his pocket.
At Petrese's association, half the owners were in foreclosure, forcing the association to double the fees on the other half who were paying their share. That drove many of those people into bankruptcy.
When Jim lost his job, to avoid going into bankruptcy, his bank agreed to let him short sell it. In other words, sell it for less than he owed. But they dragged it out, changed their minds and did everything to hurt him and themselves.
Patrick Fraser: "Howard, I hear over and over from banks and national politicians that they are working with people who are having problems meeting their mortgages. Then I talk to those people, and they tell me that's garbage. No one is helping them. What can they do?"
Howard Finkelstein: "This is a question that has no answer today. The politicians are saying one thing, the banks and lenders are saying the same thing, but no one seems to be doing anything. It's a new crisis, and we can only hope that the help begins to get to the people who desperately need it."
Patrick Fraser: "Howard, I have been stunned by the number of people who call in, in desperation, who call crying. I have never seen it like it is now. We have helped thousands, and hopefully we can help you with your problem in 2009."
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