Article Courtesy of
The Chicago Tribune
By Mary Umberger
December 19, 2004
Vergil Rizzo didn't have time to talk to me the other day.
That's because at that moment another reporter was interviewing him in his
living room, and because ever since his new job had been announced a few days
before, his phone had rung continuously with calls from people who wanted to
tell him their troubles.
Rizzo was appointed on Dec. 6 to be Florida's new "condo czar,"
apparently the first such state official in the country, although Nevada has
an ombudsman for homeowners' associations.
Rizzo, a retired doctor and a lawyer, will have duties that involve educating
Floridians about the rights and powers of condo boards and to advise the
governor on condo policy. But undoubtedly the Ft. Lauderdale resident will
spend much of his time mediating disputes between condo boards and the state's
condo owners, which number 1.2 million, and counting. And he thinks he's busy
He, or the staff he says he will organize, won't have the power to mandate
resolutions. "He'll have access to all files and records and can prepare
reports to the government and to the [state] Senate and House," explains
Mike Cochran, who heads the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and
Mobile Homes, the state agency that houses the ombudsman operation. "He
doesn't have any enforcement role. He acts in an advisory capacity. He's
empowered to be a go-between."
The creation of the job was at times a heated struggle in the Florida
legislature, where condo boards and others argued that the job wasn't needed.
The choice of Rizzo for the job brought cheers from some who saw him as being
able to bring balance to a sometimes-contentious relationship. And, there were
also some puzzled responses because Rizzo is representing himself and fellow
owners in a lawsuit against their own condo association.
His suit claims that his board negligently caused the association to lose
$220,000 of the owners' money. The board, in turn, is suing him for slander.
Rizzo has said publicly that he will turn the suits over to another lawyer, as
he is not allowed to practice law while he is the ombudsman.