Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Help Me Howard: Pay Phone
When was the last time you used a pay phone? Do you even know where any phones are located? Now, how about this question, what would you do if someone put two payphones on your property without your permission? What can you do? It's a question for Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Name a few things you don't see much in South Florida anymore? Like typewriters, $1 a gallon gas, an empty Interstate 95, and these, pay phones.
Marlene Hernandez: "They cannot be making a lot of money because I mean, very few people use public phones."
Marlene Hernandez is a property owner who rents out space to businesses.
Marlene Hernandez: "It's nice. It's the American dream. It's nice to be a landlord."
But, of course, being a landlord can bring headaches. Like these payphones on a building Marlene and her husband bought in October 2006.
Marlene Hernandez: "And I've tried for the last year to get them to remove them or to do a contract with them, and they've chose to ignore me."
In the pay phone business, the property owner or tenant usually gets 30 percent of the revenue the phones generate. Marlene has never gotten a dime.
Marlene Hernandez: "They do not pay me any rent. They do not pay me any rent; they even refuse to talk to me about them."
Last February she contacted the owners of the pay phones, she kept a running list of their contacts and copies of certified letters sent asking the phone company to pay rent or remove the phones.
Marlene Hernandez: "And they just continue delaying and delaying and I sent letters requesting for them to remove the phones. They totally ignore me."
Marlene says the pay phones don't attract the kind of people you want to have outside your business.
Marlene Hernandez: "I have homeless, I have drunk people that come and call on the phone."
Now, I know what some of you may be thinking, just what I thought. Grab a sledgehammer and take care of the trespassing phones. Marlene did consider that, but..."
Marlene Hernandez: "I would love to, but I'm afraid they might have some legal means to say that I destroyed their property, although their property's on my property!"
So, after battling the pay phone company for 13 months, Marlene gave up and used her cell phone to call Help Me Howard.
Marlene Hernandez: "So, you know, the legal system here works kind of funny, so that's why I said, 'Let me go to Help Me Howard, see what he can tell me.'"
Howard Finkelstein: "Nobody has a right to put their property on your property, especially to make a profit without your permission. Common sense says, take it down, but, unfortunately, you don't have a right to destroy someone else's property. Even when it's trespassing on your property."
A month ago, I contacted the pay phone company. We talked, but, like Marlene, I didn't make any progress. I then contacted the Public Service Commission in Tallahassee. They no longer regulate payphones, but the day after, they called the phone company, I got these contracts from them, contracts with tenants that no longer rent from Marlene.
When I asked the pay phone company who they were paying the rent to, they told me the phones didn't make any money, and that's why they didn't pay rent to anyone. Howard says, this is a clear call.
Howard Finkelstein: "The contracts are not valid for many reasons. First and foremost, the only person in this case who can allow the payphones is the owner, Marlene, not a tenant. Marlene has not agreed to the phones, has never received any commission and a right to have them removed immediately."
On Tuesday, the pay phones were removed, ending a 13-month headache for Marlene.
Marlene Hernandez: "I feel terrific. I'm really, really happy. Really thrilled that you were able to get this done so quickly. It took me a whole year of not getting anywhere and, within three weeks you got it done. I'm thrilled to death!"
Now the pay phone company sent us this letter telling us pay phones provide a great service. Such as free 911 calls 24 hours a day, phone access for the homeless and people who do not have phones and phone service after disasters like hurricanes. Unfortunately they say, with costs rising and usage dropping, pay phones may soon disappear completely, like that $1 a gallon gas.
A problem left a ringing in your ear? Want to change the tone? Dial us up, we'll try to disconnect it for you.
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