Monday, January 3, 2011
Help Me Howard: 7 Most Common Problems
Unfortunately, we all have problems: some one of a kind, some that many other people face. Your problems are the reason we created Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser, and tonight, they are both here to go through the biggest problems we all face and the best solutions. So here are Patrick and Howard.
WSVN -- Patrick Fraser: "Hello, everybody. I am Patrick Fraser along with Howard Finkelstein with our annual top seven problems you are facing. This is our 12th year of doing 'Help Me Howard,' and the number of people asking us for help just never seems to decrease."
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Once again, in 2010, we had over 50,000 calls and e-mails. Many are unique, one of a kind. But many of you are having to deal with the same issues. So let's see if we can give you some legal pointers."
Patrick Fraser: "According to our cracker-jack accounting department, meaning Howard and me, the seventh most common problem: dealing with condo and homeowner associations. Meeting people like Adrian, who has had a leaky roof for five years that his association refuses to fix, or Ana, who has a next-door neighbor who chain smokes and fills her condo with smoke every day. Howard, how can you avoid association problems?"
Howard Finkelstein: "Go out today and get a copy of your association's bylaws and rules before you have a problem. That way, you know what your rights and responsibilities are. If you do have a problem, put your response in writing, and finally go to the association's meetings. That way, you might be able to head off a problem before it's too late."
Patrick Fraser: "At number 6: your pets. From Bertha, who bought a chihuahua from a pet store that died a few days later, to Margo, who discovered that a neighbor was trapping people's cat and dropping them off at the animal shelter to be put to death. Howard, people love their animals, but the law doesn't like animals as much."
Howard Finkelstein: "Patrick, that's true. In Florida, legally, pets are not treated any different than a piece of used furniture. In other words, they are of very little worth in the eyes of the law. And while we do have a puppy lemon law, it's not very strong."
Patrick Fraser: "If I had to pick one word that describes what South Floridians had to do this year, it was battle. At number 5: battling medical issues, from people like Debra who couldn't get her insurance company to pay for the wheelchair her son needed, to Debbie, who needed a special operation but didn't have the money to pay for it, to the Chows, who were battling a hospital over medical care they didn't think their daughter needed. Howard, some of these are truly life-altering issues. How can you get the medical care you need and get it paid for?"
Howard Finkelstein: "Don't give up. If you have insurance and they refuse to pay, file an appeal with the insurance company and keep appealing. Or if you don't have insurance and need medical treatment, there are facilities that treat indigent people. Go to them."
Patrick Fraser: "At number 4: an issue that we never heard five years ago. Homes being foreclosed on, homeowners desperately trying to modify their loans to save their homes. Howard, I have spoken to many experts who say you don't need a lawyer to battle the banks and spoken to many lawyers who say, 'You are crazy if you don't hire a lawyer.' What's the answer?"
Howard Finkelstein: "If you can do it yourself, do it. If not, hire a legal expert, and the Florida Supreme Court has tried to help people avoid foreclosure with or without a lawyer by requiring mandatory mediation. Also, if you are modifying a loan, keep bugging the lender. Call them every day. Stay on top of it."
Patrick Fraser: "At number 3: battling businesses, whether it's a valet company that damaged Sam's car or a hospital employee that stole the ring from Lou's dying mother, a company that sold Claudio a box to cut his electric bill that did nothing. A lot of people have trouble with businesses that they can't resolve. Howard, instead of what can you do to battle a business, how do you protect yourself so everyone is happy?"
Howard Finkelstein: "Ask all the questions, get all the answers before you buy. Also, deal with long-standing businesses that have a great reputation. And if you can, make the purchase with a credit card to help you get out of the deal in case something goes wrong."
Patrick Fraser: "At number 2: fighting for yourself. From John Walker, who found $5,000 in a parking lot, and when he called the police, they threatened to charge him with a crime, to Jemeena, who asked us to help find where her father was buried after her dad's new wife refused to tell his family, to Alvin, who collected scrap metal to pay his bills till the Florida legislature blocked him from being able to sell anything. Howard, every issue is different, but the common thread: it's you against them."
Howard Finkelstein: "When it's you against them, it sometimes feels like David against Goliath, and you are not Goliath. But if you are right, stand up for yourself. Keep fighting, and if necessary, call us here at 'Help Me Howard.'"
Patrick Fraser: "And the most common request for help deals with South Floridians battling the bureaucracy, i.e. those government agencies that are here to protect you. From the little things, like a rooster that wakes a neighborhood with its crowing. It's illegal, but the city says they don't have the money to remove it. The state now stores all your confidential information on your driver's license and lets businesses keep it and store it. And then, there is the federal government, which refused to declare David Hill dead, even though his ship went down in 17,000 feet of water. Howard, when you hear the term 'battling the bureaucracy,' it's not a term of endearment. It's a description of a frustrating, infuriating process that is truly getting worse and worse and worse."
Howard Finkelstein: "With budget cuts, government agencies have less money, less services and are much less responsive to the taxpayers' problems. You have to be persistent. Go up the chain of command, contact supervisors and managers and contact your elected official. In short, become a thorn in their side."
Patrick Fraser: "About 50,000 requests for help. Check our website at wsvn.com under the 'Help Me Howard' archives to see if your problem is there and what the legal whiz here had to say about it."
Howard Finkelstein: "And if it's not there, call us. We would love to be able to help you resolve your problem, and not only get satisfaction but your money back."