Condo owners told of rights
Newly named ombudsman offers tips


Article Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel

By Joe Kollin

Posted Saturday, January 29, 2005


DANIA BEACH You are sitting at your kitchen table eating dinner when the president of your condominium association barges in through your unlocked door. He rants and raves because you backed into your parking spot.

You aren't allowed to back in, he screams at you. The rules say you must pull in.
Do you, as a condo owner, have any recourse, other than keeping your door locked?

The state's new condo ombudsman says you do. Dr. Virgil Rizzo told a standing-room-only crowd of about 250 on Friday that an individual director or officer has no power to order anyone to do anything. Like any corporation, only the board of directors can issue orders.

"He's not king of the castle," said Rizzo, a retired lawyer and physician making his first public appearance. "The board is king. Directors have to realize they have to act together and that individually they have no authority to tell you what to do. Individually, they're just unit owners like you."

In addition to voting the president out of office at the next election, owners do have recourse, he said.

"I recommend calling 911. He can't come barging into your apartment like that," he said.

Police might not like answering such calls, he conceded, but it is a civil disturbance and most important, the officer will file a report. That provides written evidence of a dispute, needed for the state to get involved, he said.

Gov. Jeb Bush last month appointed Rizzo to the post created by the Legislature. Legislators wanted someone to mediate disputes, provide education for owners and directors and recommend changes to condo law.

Although the ombudsman can only help condo owners, State Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, is working on legislation to allow him to help those in mandatory homeowner associations.

Robaina also is helping get money so Rizzo can hire a staff and open offices. Currently, he has been responding to all inquiries himself, about 25 calls and 25 e-mails a day, he said. He also drives throughout the state to mediate disputes and monitor elections.

Rizzo said he expects Robaina to get him a supplemental appropriation, enough to hire one employee, in the next few weeks.

He is seeking a budget of nearly $1 million for the year beginning July 1.

"I'm thrilled we have a person finally who can help us with our problems and Dr. Rizzo seems well-qualified to do the job," said Jill Beiley, a director of an Aventura condo attended the town hall-style meeting at Dania City Hall.

Not everyone agreed.

"He's an advocate against condo boards. He assumes that boards are always wrong," said Neal Ketcher, an owner in the River Reach condo complex in Fort Lauderdale where Rizzo also lives.

Rizzo has sued his board and directors have sued him.

It seems even Florida's condo ombudsman needs an ombudsman.