It won't be all sunshine for condo czar


Article Courtesy of The Chicago Tribune
By Mary Umberger

Published 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 now?

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.