State condo ombudsman working out of Lauderdale


Article Courtesy of the SUN SENTINEL

By Joe Kollin

Posted 12-30-2004


Florida's first condominium ombudsman now has his own phone number -- but it is long distance for most of the Floridians who want his services.

The number, 850-922-7671, rings in Virgil R. Rizzo's new Tallahassee headquarters. But since he hasn't moved to the capital, he retrieves the messages from his Fort Lauderdale apartment.

Since his appointment by Gov. Jeb Bush early this month, Rizzo has personally responded to more than 200 phone calls -- 98 percent from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, with the balance from Pensacola to Daytona Beach and Stuart to Naples.

Eventually Rizzo, a retired lawyer and physician, will have a toll-free number and open branch offices throughout the state with local numbers.

The Florida Legislature created the condo ombudsman job earlier this year because so many owners expressed dissatisfaction with the service provided by the state's Bureau of Condominiums. It is the first such job in both the state and the nation.

The ombudsman will attempt to mediate disputes between owners and boards, educate both about their responsibilities, recommend enforcement to the bureau when needed, and recommend new laws if needed.

Although the ombudsman is required to maintain his principal office in Tallahassee, Rizzo said that "with all the action" in South Florida, he hopes to eventually hire an attorney to handle the headquarters so he can remain here to personally deal with issues.

Most complaints he has received so far involve issues regulated by individual association condo documents and each is different.

Rizzo said he doesn't yet know how much money he will have to run his operation. The law creating the office requires it to use money from the $4 million condo trust fund instead of tax money.