Courtesy of the Miami Herald
12- 08 - 2004
retired Fort Lauderdale man has been named the state's first condominium
ombudsman and he may be the first such ombudsman in the nation.
Gov. Jeb Bush has appointed a retired Fort
Lauderdale doctor and lawyer as the state's first condominium ombudsman.
Virgil Rizzo, 67, now must establish the office,
which was created by the state Legislature during its last regular session.
Rizzo has been involved in condo association
issues at the grassroots level for years.
''Mr. Rizzo is a fabulous choice,'' said Rep.
Julio Robaina, R-Miami, the legislator who sponsored the bill creating the
ombudsman. `He's had personal problems with condominiums, which makes him
sensitive to the problems of individual owners.''
Rizzo has been involved in ongoing litigation
between owners and the board of directors at River Reach Condominiums in Fort
Lauderdale, where he lives.
As an attorney, he represents some 500 plaintiffs
-- including himself -- who sued the board alleging it caused condo owners to
lose $220,000 in association fees that were deposited in the Hamilton Bank,
which collapsed in 2002.
Rizzo said Tuesday he no longer will handle the
lawsuit, as he is forbidden from private practice while serving in his new post.
His new job will be to mediate disputes between
condo associations and individual unit owners. He will be neutral, not an
advocate, he said.
''I'm not here to represent one side or the
other,'' Rizzo said.
``I've seen both sides of the issue and have seen
what the problem is: a lack of knowledge, on both sides, about the operation of
The new ombudsman will have a budget of $4
million, which comes from a yearly fee condo owners pay. The $4-a-year fee that
owners pay to their associations has been in place for several years now. Some
of the money has been deposited in a trust fund.
Rizzo plans to have an office of 15 employees
organized into three departments.
One would field complaints from the public for
Another would educate and inform individual
owners and boards about their rights and powers.
A third would identify problems currently not
covered by Florida law to make recommendations to the Legislature.
''I'm not sure what the exact procedures will
be,'' Rizzo said Tuesday. ``Keep in mind we are creating something that did not
exist and that is unprecedented in the country.''
Only Nevada has something similar, but its
ombudsman only handles homeowners association issues.
But the Legislature may have relied on anecdotal
evidence rather than hard data when they drafted the new condo bill, said
attorney Donna Berger of the Community Association Leadership Lobby, a statewide
group that represents more than 4,000 condo and homeowners associations. It
opposed the ombudsman idea.
''At this point we want to move forward,'' Berger
said. ``But we wish the Legislature would concentrate its energy on where it is