Courtesy of the SUN SENTINEL
new condominium ombudsman is being undermined by the state agency he reports to,
charged Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, who accused the Department of Business
& Professional Regulation of deliberately underfunding the new office.
"It's apparent they want him to fail," Robaina said. "We finally
found a good use for condo owners' money -- giving them someone to help them out
-- and the department doesn't want to fund him. Yet he's being looked at as a
savior in the condominium world."
Robaina said the ombudsman, Dr. Virgil Rizzo of Fort Lauderdale, has already
proven his worth by helping hundreds of condo owners and directors in less than
two months on the job.
The office of ombudsman was created by the Legislature last year to educate
condo owners and directors, mediate disputes, recommend enforcement against
those violating condo law, monitor elections and recommend new laws for the
estimated 2 million Floridians living in condos.
The ombudsman's office is supposed to be independent. However, the office is
considered a bureau within the state agency, which controls funding.
"The ombudsman is the only bureau chief in the department with no staff and
no money, yet he's asked to tackle one of the biggest problems facing Floridians
today," Robaina said.
Robaina was outraged that the department proposed an annual budget of only
$177,000. He said $944,000 for the year beginning July 1 was needed.
"That's so he can do the job he's supposed to do," he said, "For
$177,000 we might as well not have an ombudsman."
Rizzo, 67, a retired doctor and lawyer, told a Senate committee last week that
he tries to answer all calls within 24 hours and stays up until 3 a.m. answering
"I need help," he told the committee.
Most calls, he said, are inquiries rather than complaints, and just having
someone to talk to satisfies many callers.
"He's getting 250 calls and hundreds of e-mails a week and [the department]
wants him to stay in Tallahassee with one administrative assistant," said
Robaina, who wants to pay for an attorney and administrative assistance in
Tallahassee and in South Florida, where most condos are located.
The Senate and House committees will make their budget recommendations within 30
days. The Legislature's annual 60-day session begins March 8.
The state agency is paying for the ombudsman from the condo trust fund, not
taxes. The trust fund gets its money from the $4-per-unit fee paid annually by
associations. Until now, the trust fund was used primarily to support the Bureau
Robaina and Rizzo are scheduled to appear at a town hall meeting today from 1-5
p.m. at the Lauderdale West Clubhouse, 1141 NW 85th Ave., Plantation. State Rep.
Franklin Sands, D-Weston, who serves with Robaina on the House budget committee,
is conducting the meeting to discuss what condo owners want from the state
during the 60-day legislative session that begins March 8.
IF YOU GO
What: Town hall meeting to
address concerns of the state's condominium owners.
Where: Lauderdale West Clubhouse, 1141 NW
85th Ave., Plantation
When: 1-5 p.m. today.
Who: Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston, has
invited Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, and several other legislators; condo
Ombudsman Virgil Rizzo; Jan Bergemann, president of Cyber Citizens for Justice;
representatives of the state Bureau of Condominiums; and others.
Why: For residents to let legislators know
their concerns as they prepare for the March 8 opening of the Legislature's
annual 60-day session.