Job A Handful


Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

South Florida Sun-Sentinel Editorial Board
Posted December 11, 2004


Playing peacekeeper between condo commandos and homeowner combatants is not a job to relish. But Virgil Rizzo, a retired Fort Lauderdale doctor and lawyer, has been appointed to do just that. Good luck to him.

Last week, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Rizzo, 67, as the state's first condominium ombudsman. The Legislature created the statewide post this spring to help defuse growing conflict between condo boards and residents.

The job is quite a handful. Rizzo's duties will include educating Florida's 1 million condo owners while trying to resolve brewing and boiling disputes.

Oh, and by the way, state lawmakers would like to add equally flinty homeowner associations to his office's jurisdiction next year.

Under the new law, Rizzo is allowed to open branch offices throughout the state with the governor's approval. He has indicated the first office will serve Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, given that the tri-county area has more condos than any other region.

Rizzo also plans to divide his central Tallahassee office into three departments, one to resolve disputes, another to educate owners and directors and a third to issue reports on necessary changes to condo rules and recommend additional state laws. Rizzo, who has been involved in litigation with his own condo board, is no stranger to the friction between condo owners and directors, so he is well versed on contentious issues he will face.

Rizzo would do well to remember that his job is ombudsman, and that creating a level playing field shouldn't mean catering to one side or the other. His office is funded from fees collected from condo owners, and he must make sure the money is spent wisely and properly.

His management of money and his ability to be objective will be vital to building credibility as a fair and just public servant.

Yet his success, and that of his office, may well depend on condo residents themselves. The best way to avoid disputes is for folks to read the rules that govern their associations before they buy, or at least soon after.

Unfortunately, few do so, and that's what leads to many clashes with boards. If Rizzo and his team can promote greater awareness of regulations and restrictions among condo owners and boards, he and his office will have been a wise investment.