Coronavirus Q&A #2

(WSVN) - Can you stop paying your mortgage? What about your rent? Can someone go to jail for knowingly infecting people with the coronavirus? Your questions are pouring into 7News, and we have the answers in tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

Cesar is a bartender. You know what that means.

Cesar Mejia, income is disappearing: “My income comes from tips. We all live directly from tips.”

Now bars and restaurants are being forced to close by a certain time, and when they are open, they’re dying. No customers, no money for the employees.

Cesar Mejia: “It’s anxiety. You get anxious. Everybody’s getting anxious ’cause you don’t know what is going on.”

The income for so many South Floridians is slowing to a trickle or stopping completely, but the bills keep pouring in, leaving Cesar facing a scary time.

Cesar Mejia: “Am I going to be able to afford my mortgage? Am I going to be able to pay for it?

Without his bartending tips, Cesar knows the answer. He needs help.

Cesar Mejia: “Is there something the banks can do? Just add two or three, four months to our mortgage policy. I’m probably going to pay it afterwards. What protection is there for me under this national emergency? Not just for me, but everybody in the service industry.”

Well, Howard, after Hurricane Irma, banks let South Floridians move a few mortgage payments to the end of their loan. Is that available yet?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “Some countries, like Italy, who have declared a national emergency, have been giving homeowners financial help with their payments, and while President Trump has declared a national emergency, it does not give you any legal right to not pay your mortgage. But this where the lenders can step forward by moving your current payments to the back end of the loan if you are going through a hardship. Contact your lender to try to get that hardship break.”

While we are on people’s homes, Howard, we got a call from a single mom with kids who used the money she had to buy supplies for her family. Now, she says, she does not have rent money. Is there any help there?

Howard Finkelstein: “Right now there is no help with rent if you can’t make your monthly payment, but getting evicted is unlikely. Your landlord cannot go to court to evict you because the courts are closed, and even if they already have an eviction notice, the sheriff’s departments have been told to stop evictions. Of course, try to reason with your landlord, and landlords, try to be reasonable.”

Price gouging. We’re hearing complaints about the price of things like hand sanitizers and disinfectants soaring. Is that price gouging, which is illegal?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes, but it’s limited to what the state sees as essential items. In a hurricane, it would be gas and lumber. In this coronavirus state of emergency, it’s masks, sanitizers and cleaning supplies. If you know of someone jacking up the price on those items, contact the police, because that’s a crime, and they can go to jail.”

If you know you have the coronavirus and you get on a plane, a cruise ship, go to the store or a restaurant, and people get the virus, legally, can the carrier be in trouble?

Howard Finkelstein: “Yes. It’s a crime. If you knowingly expose people, it’s called culpable negligence, and it’s a misdemeanor. Now, if you infect someone and they die, it could be manslaughter, and you could go to prison. The bottom line: if you have virus or you are sick, stay home.”

So many questions, so many concerns, yet for so many Americans, there is one overriding goal: to just get by.

When we left Cesar, he had found a little work landscaping.

Cesar Mejia: “Anything that I can fix, or any painting or any labor, anything that I could do, to help me out.”

We are helping Cesar with his bank to see what can be done, and we’ll let you know what happens because it might help you if you’re having trouble making your mortgage payments.

If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions for us regarding the coronavirus, we are here. Just get in touch with us, and we’ll see what we can do.

Stay calm. Be careful.

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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