renegades take heart.
kindred spirit will soon be on the loose in Florida.
His name is Virgil Rizzo. He's been a doctor and a lawyer,
and this week, Gov. Jeb Bush made him Florida's first-ever condominium
The idea of a statewide condo czar was born over
widespread grumbling by condo owners that dispute resolution with their boards
is slow, costly, and ultimately unfair because of a disparity in resources.
Rizzo, 67, knows a thing or two about condo disputes
because he has been representing himself in a lawsuit against his own River
Reach condo in Fort Lauderdale.
And now, as the state's condo ombudsman, he'll be
immersing himself in the condo complaints of others.
"When you have infighting with your neighbors, it
leads to stress and turmoil," he said. "And you have to ask, not only
'Who's right?' but 'Does it really matter?'
"The issues are usually minor," he said.
"Some people wake up in the morning with nothing to do. Their neighbor
says, 'Do you know what so-and-so is doing?' And the next thing you know,
they're fighting with everybody."
Rizzo's own condo battle caught the attention of Rep.
Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who was sponsoring the legislation that would ultimately
create the nation's first statewide condominium ombudsman.
Goal: Talk to people, not lawyers
The position is within the Division of Florida Land Sales,
Condominiums, and Mobile Homes of the Department of Business and Professional
Regulation. But Rizzo, who will have a $4 million annual budget and his own
15-member staff, plans to run an autonomous operation — zipping around the
state to personally try to resolve condo disputes before they become
full-fledged legal wars.
The way condo dispute mediation is now handled, both sides
are represented by lawyers, and the loser pays the legal fees. This is unfair,
particularly to the lone unit owner who must roll the dice against the resources
and legal expertise of his or her condo association, Rizzo said.
Rizzo's solution is to take the lawyers out of the
"I want to hear from the people themselves, not their
mouthpieces," he said. "People just get upset, and usually it's
nothing they can't resolve if they just stop swearing at each other and
Rizzo said the more prudent course, in many condo
disputes, is not to let a few arbitrary condo rules get in the way of a good
"The board has the authority to allow people to break
the rules," he said.
Rizzo said nobody has a right to be a nuisance to his or
her neighbors, but he thinks condo boards do a disservice when they go after
rule breakers who aren't bothering anyone.
"You have to live with each other," he said.
Tackle problems quickly
Rizzo said he's not interested in running an office that
simply compiles complaints. He wants to resolve problems quickly, and one of the
biggest problems, he said, is condo elections. The law that creates his position
also provides for condos to ask for election monitors.
"People who want to run against the incumbents in a
condo often find themselves denigrated," he said. "I'm going to have
to find election monitors,"
But first, he needs a satellite office in South Florida.
And a staff. And to get set up next week in Tallahassee as this new,
learn-as-you-go adventure begins.
"I'm getting a lot of calls from people who want to
help," he said.