Condo owners speak out at info workshop

Hundreds of Miami Beach condominium owners packed City Hall last week

for a workshop on condo owner rights and responsibilities.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published Sun, Mar. 26, 2006

They came with complaints and frustrations. But mostly, they wanted answers.

Dozens of condominium homeowners -- most from Miami Beach, some from elsewhere in the county, -- packed City Hall on Tuesday night to learn more about condo living.

Virgil Rizzo, the state ombudsman, was the scheduled guest speaker. But he recently underwent back surgery and could not attend. The state's assistant condo ombudsman, Bill Raphan, answered questions instead.

It was a standing-room-only crowd for most of the night. That kind of turnout is no surprise in Miami Beach, where about 58 percent of its housing stock is listed as condominiums.

Raphan said his office -- which reports to the governor and is based out of Fort Lauderdale -- receives about 700 complaints a week.

''They keep coming in and coming in,'' he said. ``But believe it or not, we answer everything within 24 hours.''

For more than two hours Raphan listened to condo owners gripe about special assessments and flawed condo laws.

Some wanted to know who is responsible for replacing condo-unit windows and sliding glass doors after a hurricane. Every case is different, Raphan explained. But he pointed to a recent state law that requires condominium associations to have insurance to cover such damage.

Antonio Lopez of Southwest Miami-Dade sought direction on how to recall a condo's board of directors.

Raphan's response:``The state cannot walk into your condominium and kick the board out because you don't like them.''

Raphan did say, however, that directors could be removed by voting replacements in. But he also admitted that ``elections are a big problem.''

Rizzo and Raphan are currently pushing to change some of Florida's condominium laws. One example: They're trying to get legislators to create a law that would limit the number of years a board member may be elected to serve as president of the association.

''It bothers me when the president of the board has been there for 18 years,'' Raphan said.

During the meeting, Raphan also talked about some of his office's various duties. Ombudsman staff act as a neutral resource regarding the rights and responsibilities of unit owners, associations and board members.

Last year, the state condo ombudsman monitored about 50 elections, up 10 from 2004.

''When we monitor an election, sometimes 80 or 90 percent of the people vote,'' he said.