Condo ombudsman flooded with questions from owners, board members, attorneys

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Kathleen Kernicky

Published August 6, 2008

If you have a tale about a condo dispute, Bill Raphan probably has heard it before, at least once.

He's supervisor of the Fort Lauderdale branch of the state Office of the Condominium Ombudsman, which fields hundreds of questions every week from unit owners, board members, property managers and even some attorneys.

"We get inquiries on everything you could imagine, and sometimes things you could never imagine," said Raphan, a condo resident who got involved at the ombudsman office as a volunteer in early 2005. Today, he supervises the satellite office in Fort Lauderdale.

"When the office was first started, we were mostly being called by disgruntled unit owners. But now, more than 50 percent of our calls come from board members, property managers and sometimes even attorneys."

Since 2004, the Tallahassee-based ombudsman's office has operated as an educational resource, answering questions, mediating disputes and monitoring elections.

We asked Raphan to respond to some frequently asked questions.

Q. How much detail is required when writing the minutes of association meetings? Should the minutes be verbatim or a summary of each statement?

A. Robert's Rules of Order states the minutes should record what was "done" at the meeting, not what was "said" by the members. In other words, the minutes should not be a narrative, but they should reflect the business that was conducted. People do not understand what minutes mean. People will stand up at a meeting and say, "I think the [board] president is an idiot." That doesn't belong in the minutes.

Q. After the minutes are transcribed, can a unit owner walk into the office and demand to see them, or must the owner follow certain procedures? Is there a time limit on getting the meetings transcribed?

A. In order to see the minutes, a unit owner must submit a written request (preferably by certified mail) to inspect the official records of the association and obtain copies. The association has five days to make those records available. Some associations don't automatically approve the minutes at the next meeting. The unit owner still has a right to inspect and get copies of the draft or the un-approved minutes.

Q. What happens if not enough owners volunteer to serve on a board? Does the state take over the association? Does that cost the owners more?

A. If the association cannot get a "quorum" of unit owners to serve on the board, unit owners may apply to the circuit court for the appointment of a "receiver" to manage the affairs of an association. A receiver will then come in to manage the association. This can be a very expensive situation and result in a loss of control.

Q. When owners fall behind in paying assessments, does a board have the right to decide which owners' assessments will be turned over to an attorney for collection? Does the board have the right to pick and choose?

A. It is the "fiduciary duty" of the board of directors to collect the necessary assessments to maintain the property. They cannot selectively enforce whom they will take action against for non-payment. If the unit owners are not pleased with the actions of their board, they may "recall" them or vote them out in the next election.

For information, go to The office of state condo ombudsman in Tallahassee can be reached at 850-922-7671. Or, call the satellite office in Fort Lauderdale at 954-202-3234. You can also e-mail your questions to [email protected].