Courtesy of the Daytona Beach News-Journal
Posted September 29, 2005
When the homeowners association at Daytona
Beach's Marina Point had minor problems with the annual election of the board of
directors recently, guidance was available from Dr. Virgil Rizzo, Florida's
first condominium ombudsman appointed a year ago by Governor Jeb Bush. When
disagreement erupted among condominium owners at the Ocean Ritz homeowners
association and some homeowners wanted a new board, Dr. Rizzo came to supervise
and helped the residents clean house of any bad politics.
Rizzo has been carrying out a 2004 legislative
mandate to provide education and assistance to condo owners around the state. He
reports that more than 80 percent of complaints received have been resolved
since the office opened last October.
"The people at our condo were unhappy,"
said Zelma Crenshaw, a member of the Ocean Ritz homeowners association.
"The people on the board wanted to stay in power, but there were some
She was told by the board that "this is the
way they had always run the meetings and if I didn't like it, they would throw
my ballot in the trash can."
Crenshaw made a formal complaint to Rizzo's
"He said he would be glad to have one of his
people run the election," she said. "He sent me a petition, and we
made copies and sent several to other homeowners. We needed 19 names to get the
ombudsman to monitor the election, and we got many more than that."
"He (Rizzo) sent (a representative from the
Ombudsman Office) down here to monitor the election. We have 121 units in this
building. We had 100 people vote. Without him, we wouldn't have gotten a new
During the first quarter of 2005, the Ombudsman,
an administrative assistant, and several volunteers staffed the Tallahassee
office. Later the Legislature, effective July 1, authorized a budget of $440,000
(from the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes Trust
Fund) which Rizzo used to add to his staff. He operates with an attorney, two
paralegals, an administrative assistant and a clerk typist. Gov. Bush also has
authorized a satellite office to be opened in Broward County, Rizzo said.
Approximately 4,000 inquiries to Rizzo were made
from April through June 2005. Most of the inquiries and requests were dealt with
by telephone and e-mail replies. Many of the issues, disputes, complaints, and
problems were resolved within a few days of their receipt, he said. Most
complaints involved requests for information regarding statutory and
administrative rule interpretation, and procedural operation and treatment of
condominium corporate issues.
Rizzo said during the second quarter, the major
problem continued to be the incapability and inability of board members to
operate properly the associations.
"About 50 percent of inquiries were related
to mismanagement of the association by the board of directors regarding
finances, general operation, maintenance, and assessments. Twenty-five percent
of the complaints were related to officer and director abuse by selective rule
enforcement, lease-sale-transfer refusal, and general harassment at board
meetings and about record requests," Rizzo said. "Ten percent were
complaints regarding similar abuse by community association managers and
condominium management companies. Fifteen percent of the complaints related to
election and recall situations and issues."
Ivan Tessier, president of Marina Point
homeowners' association, said his condominium also got help from Rizzo.
"We had minor problems, and the homeowners
requested the state come and supervise the election," explained Tessier. He
served on the homeowners' association board on and off for 18 years, but said
this is his first time as president. "His (Rizzo's) assistance made it very
clear how things were to be done. I was impressed. I think we learned enough
that we don't need his assistance, but from time to time, we call with
questions, and he is helpful and assists us with answers.
"(Rizzo's) help is really welcome," he
added. "It was refreshing to have someone with the knowledge of what's
According to Rizzo, the ombudsman's job is about
fact-finding, recommending solutions and helping to find equitable settlements.
An innovative staff, he said, has enhanced the success of his office.
"By working in conjunction with other
agencies and resources, the office has been able to effectuate solutions
regarding most all aspects of condominium living," he said in his recent
report. He listed working with many agencies, including the Office of Human
Relations, Fair Housting, the Florida Real Estate Commission and FEMA among
Rizzo, 68, a Pittsburgh, Pa., native, is an
attorney, a retired medical doctor and a condo owner. He was a Fort Lauderdale
resident when appointed to the job by Gov. Bush. He first taught science and
math at Pittsburgh public schools after earning a bachelor's degree in 1959 from
the University of Pittsburgh. During the mid-1960s he moved to Basel,
Switzerland to study medicine. He studied dermatology and immunology and
obtained a degree from the Swiss Institute of Tropical medicine.
In 1966, Rizzo moved to Lakeland to intern at
Lakeland General and Polk County Hospitals and later opened a general practice
in Broward County. Shortly after he began his practice, Rizzo was drafted and
served two years in Vietnam. He returned to his medical practice until 1976.
Then he attended Nova University School of Law (graduated 1982) and practiced
general law and worked as a medical legal consultant to law firms throughout
His involvement in condominiums began in 1971
when he became involved in the association where he lived and helped others with
condominium association problems.
To contact the ombudsman, e-mail: [email protected],
phone (850) 922-7671, or fax (850) 921-5446.