Can a Business Charge a COVID-19 Fee?

(WSVN) - As businesses open, can they charge you a COVID-19 fee? Can you keep getting unemployment if you go back to work part-time instead of full-time? A lot of questions coming in as South Florida tries to get back to work. Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser is here with some answers.

As Jaterria approached her senior year in high school, she and her mom decided to do something together.

Jasmine Brutus, hit with COVID-19 fee: “We both decided to get braces at the same time. This is her graduating year, so she wanted to get it done before she graduated.”

They signed a contract with a dentist, paying $60 for each visit. Everything was going well, until their plan got corona’d.

Jasmine Brutus: “Unfortunately, with this pandemic going on, she didn’t get them off on time.”

After being closed for two months, the dentist’s office reopened. Jasmine and her daughter both went in to get their braces adjusted. They should have also braced for a surprise.

Jasmine Brutus: “‘Yeah, because we are charging a $10 fee for COVID-19.’ Why are you charging me $10 extra for COVID-19?”

Jasmine was told each patient had to pay a COVID-19 fee.

Jasmine Brutus: “OK, what is this payment going for? Is it going towards a charity? Is it going towards extra things? She was like, ‘No, it’s for COVID-19.'”

Jasmine was laid off when the coronavirus hit. Getting extra fees without an explanation irritated her.

Jasmine Brutus: “Everybody’s got little to nothing, you know, and unemployment is backed up. How do you expect people to dish out extra money when they don’t have it?

Jasmine stood her ground and didn’t pay the $10, but Howard, can the dentist’s office demand Jasmine pay a COVID fee?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News Legal Expert: “The fee is recommended by the American Dental Association to cover COVID-related cleanup expenses. With an orthodontist, where you have a contract for braces, they cannot charge it or add it without your permission. Now, if it’s a regular dentist or doctor’s office, if they tell you ahead of time, they can charge it, but you can say no and walk out.”

OK, Howard, restaurants are going to have to do additional cleaning because of the virus. Can they add a fee for each diner?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes, they can charge a fee, but they have to let you know up front, whether it’s verbally, on the menu or on a visible sign. If they don’t let you know ahead of time, you do not have to pay it.”

So many people can’t get unemployment it’s mind-boggling, and now, from the believe-it-or-not category, we are hearing from people who got their jobs back and cannot find a way to stop the unemployment money from coming in. What should they do?

Howard Finkelstein: “Every week or two, when you go online for the mandatory reporting, they ask if you were offered a job. When you answer yes, they will stop your payments.”

Now, Howard, what if you only go back to work part-time?

Howard Finkelstein: “When you put down it’s part-time and how much you are earning, you should still get unemployment, but it will decrease based on the amount of money you are paid at your job. A warning: please don’t lie and try to collect unemployment once you get a full-time job, because that’s a crime, and you will be charged.”

Landlords are so frustrated with the renters who cannot or will not pay rent.

In June, many can start the eviction process, but they are trying to get tenants out now by cutting the water or electricity to the unit. Can they do that?

Howard Finkelstein: “No, a landlord cannot cut the water or lights to a residence. It’s illegal. If your landlord does, contact legal aid because if they take your case, they can get it turned back on, and then you are entitled to the equivalent of three months rent minus what you owe the landlord for your missed rent.”

If a day ends in a “y,” we get complaints about associations. Many won’t open their pools for residents in swim in. Do they have to?

Howard Finkelstein: “No, each board is free to keep their pools or other amenities closed and then reopen at their own discretion based on their determination as to what is safe for their community.”

Jasmine is happy to find out she doesn’t have to pay the COVID fee for her braces, and her daughter won’t have to worry much longer. Hers are coming off after graduation as she joins the military.

Jasmine Brutus: “She is also getting ready to go to the Air Force, so she is excited also to get hers off.”

Going to serve her country. Thanks, Jaterria.

Now, here in South Florida, a lot of new problems are popping up as things slowly reopen.

If you need help with a problem or have a question, let us know. We are here for you.

CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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