Condo groups worry about new ombudsman

Article Courtesy of The Forum

By Fallan Patterson

Published September 2, 2008


With the current condo om­budsman, Danille Carroll, set to set down from office on Sept. 2, condo 
advocacy groups are voicing their concerns about who Gov. Charlie Crist's should appoint to the 
position. "The ombudsman must be neutral in all dealings with condos,” said Charlotte Greenbarg, 
president of the Broward Coalition. 

"There are good and bad among both boards and unit owners, and that neutrality and fairness,
without presumption of guilt, is essential."

Rizzo was appointed as the first ombudsman by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2004, then was abruptly
fired in June 2006.

"The attorney's didn't like Rizzo because he took a stand; the condo ovvners liked him because he told them like it was," said Jan Bergemann, president of the Internet condominium activist group Cyber Citizens for Justice.

"The [Department of Business and Professional Regulation] threw rocks in his way because they didn't like him.

The current ombudsman, Danille Carroll, seems to have faired better with the advocacy groups and the state, bringing less controversy to the position. 

Carroll said that the new ombudsman should bring neutrality to the office.

"There are a lot of difficult situations but if [the new ombudsman] follow the laws and rules and comes in with the heart in the right place, [things should be fine]," Carroll said. 

"When you don't have a horse in the race, it's easier to be neutral."

The ombudsman's office has a budget of about $530,000, out of which around $400,000 pays eight full-time and two part-time employees, Carroll confirmed.

The remainder of the money goes towards educating condo boards and residents and other responsibilities. 

"The office of the ombudsman needs the appropriate funding to continue its outreach and educational efforts," said Lisa Magill, an attorney and president of the Community Association Institute, a condominium education provider. "[Carroll's] devotion to education and outreach efforts is outstanding." 

The new ombudsman, who has not been announced as of press time, will have a difficult task ahead as the foreclosure crisis has not let up and some associations are raising fees to cope with empty units. 

"With current economic conditions, the ombudsman needs strong dispute resolution skills to achieve a balance between personal financial constraints of the owners and the community maintenance and repair needs," Magill said. 

"The ombudsman should work with agencies or organizations that provide other services or programs to assist with community needs." 

The Condominium Ombudsman Office was created as a result of the 2004 Florida legislative session from House Bill 1223, a bill sponsored by Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.

Florida became the second state to create an ombudsman for community associations after Nevada, which has had an ombudsman for owners in common-interest communities since 1997. 

The Florida Ombudsman investigative complaints, reports findings to the governor, helps to gain equitable settlements and monitors condo board elections. 

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