Courtesy of the Sun Sentinel
retired Fort Lauderdale doctor and lawyer has been chosen to serve as the first
condominium ombudsman in the nation, a position that will require him to educate
more than 1 million condo owners and to resolve disputes with their 17,000
The appointment of Virgil R. Rizzo, 67, who is in the middle of a bitter lawsuit
with his own condo association, was announced Monday by Gov. Jeb Bush.
Florida Legislature created the position earlier this year over the objection of
many condo lawyers and directors. Supporters of the law said they would try to
add homeowner associations to the ombudsman's jurisdiction at the legislative
session that begins in March.
"I think this will be a great opportunity for condo owners in Florida to
finally have a voice and to have someone looking out for their issues,"
said Rep. Julio Robaina, the Miami Republican who led last year's drive to
revise condo and homeowner laws.
Rizzo tentatively plans three departments in his Tallahassee-based office -- one
to resolve disputes between boards and owners, another to educate and assist
owners and directors, and a third to handle the reports he is required to make
recommending new laws and procedures.
Under the new law, he can open branch offices throughout the state with the
governor's approval. The only one so far he is sure he will establish will serve
Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, which he said have more condos than
Rizzo said the ombudsman will equalize the ability of owners and boards to
resolve disputes. Now, boards dip into association treasuries for money to pay
attorneys to fight owners while owners fend for themselves, he said.
"There wasn't a level playing field, and that led to a great deal of
dissatisfaction," he said.
Rather than have the formal arbitration hearings, he plans to have informal
mediation hearings and probably won't allow attorneys on either side.
Although he expects to hire about 15 people, he knows little else about the
"All I know is what I can glean from the statute. I don't even know how
much I'm getting paid," he said. "Everything is on the drawing board,
because no other state has a condo ombudsman office. This is precedent-setting
for us, which means I have to be careful structuring and organizing it."
The only state with a similar position is Nevada, where an ombudsman serves
mandatory homeowner associations, not condominiums.
Rizzo, who retired from the practice of law in 1988, had a general medical
practice in Plantation for 10 years in the 1970s. He will serve "at the
pleasure of the governor" and will be a bureau chief within the Division of
Florida Land Sales, Condominiums & Mobile Homes.
The office will be financed with money collected by each condo association,
which must pay $4 per unit every year.
An owner at the 574-unit River Reach complex off Davie Boulevard and Southwest
Ninth Avenue, Rizzo said he will retain an attorney rather than continue
representing himself in the lawsuits between him and his board members.
In the suits, Rizzo accuses directors of negligently causing the condo
association to lose $220,000 of owners' money. The directors accuse him of libel
for negligently making the allegations. The suits are being heard in Broward
Karen Gottlieb, of Dania Beach, a Bush appointee to the newly created Florida
Advisory Council on Condominiums, praised Rizzo.
"He's been a victim, and he cares about people," she said.
Gary Poliakoff, whose statewide firm specializes in condo law, said while
current law already contains "adequate safeguards" to protect owners
from boards, Rizzo should "help ensure a balance between the rights of unit
owners and the authority granted by statute to boards."