Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel
doesn't have an office yet or even a business phone number, but already angry
condo owners are tracking down Virgil R. Rizzo at his Fort Lauderdale apartment
and bending his ear.
"It's been unending. I've been getting calls at home all day long starting
at 8 a.m.," said Rizzo, the nation's first condominium ombudsman.
"People have legitimate complaints but they, unbelievably, expect me to
resolve them immediately."
Appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush on Monday, he is responsible for mediating disputes
between owners and their boards, educating boards about their jobs, educating
owners about their responsibilities and recommending changes to state laws.
Rizzo, a retired doctor and lawyer, said he can't be sure how long it will take
to get started, "but we hope to be up and running by the first of the
He still needs to get a staff, telephones, offices and a system for dealing with
Temporarily, he suggests callers leave messages at the Division of Florida Land
Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes' toll-free number, 800-226-9101.
The law creating the ombudsman, adopted this year, lets him represent the owners
of more than 1 million condos. The position is not only new for Florida, but
also for the country. The only other state with a similar position is Nevada,
but its ombudsman only serves mandatory homeowner association communities.
Although he expects to hire a staff of 15, he isn't sure how many will be
attorneys, investigators and support personnel.
"Some of the calls I'm getting have been from attorneys who want to work
for me, including some who, surprisingly, work in the [condominium] industry,
and other people wanting to volunteer their services and help out," he
He isn't even sure about his budget. He will head to Tallahassee on Sunday to
spend a few days learning what he can about the office he will run.
"The first thing I'll do is gather information from the department to
determine the volume of calls and what they are about, then do an analysis and
see what I can do to resolve problems," he said.
Mediating disputes will be only one part of the $65,000-a-year job.
"It's obvious from everything so far that people need more of an education
about condos," he said. "Condo associations are corporations and
directors need to run them like corporations. We'll also have to educate unit
owners, who must learn that they can't just call in, complain about a problem
and expect action."
He plans to use his medical experience to guide him in the new position.
"I need to look at it the way a doctor looks at it," he said.
"What is the patient's complaint, what is the preliminary diagnosis and
what is the treatment. A patient, or owner, comes with a complaint, so an
inquiry has to be made, such as how the owner can support the complaint. Then we
have to diagnose it. Then comes the most difficult part, how to treat it."