Couple pass on condo wisdom as part of statewide effort
Courtesy of The Miami Herald
February 3, 2011
With the help of his wife, Bill Raphan of Tamarac aims
to educate people about condo practices and laws while overseeing the
Broward branch of the state Condo Ombudsman’s Office.
Bill Raphan would be the first to say it:
Condo living can be hard. Just having so many neighbors can be tough.
It has gotten even worse.
The foreclosure crisis has added
financial problems to the usual personality conflicts and condo commando
Raphan sees – and hears – the
complaints every day as head of the Broward operations of the Florida
Condo Ombudsman’s Office.
His office at 1400 W. Commercial Blvd.
fields about 14,000 calls a year, mostly from South Florida residents.
It is the condo ombudsman’s only office outside Tallahassee.
Complaints abound about some condo associations raising monthly
maintenance fees or passing special assessments to cover owners who are
not paying and may even be in foreclosure.
“I would say a good percentage of
condos are having problems," Raphan said.
Still, Raphan is not ready to give up on
Broward condo living.
He and his wife Susan, who helps him in
the ombudsman’s office, own a Tamarac condo. They moved here from New
York after running a catering business. The idea was to retire early and
enjoy days of sun-and-fun.
That was before Raphan got on his condo
board, served as president, then volunteered to help start the condo
ombudsman’s office. The state Legislature set up the office in 2004 to
oversee elections, mediate disputes and run classes to educate condo
owners and association leaders. Raphan soon became immersed in all three
areas – plus helping answer an average of 38 calls a day, 365 days a
week. He and his wife Susan ended up working full time.
Susan tries to pass along a pragmatic
approach to condo dwellers who can become angry over issues, from a
noisy upstairs neighbor to an unexpected assessment. Cool the emotion,
she recommends. “A condo is a business,’’ she tells upset condo
owners. “You are the shareholder.’’
That detached emotion has helped her and
her husband run strong, leading the ombudsman’s office in Broward
while also teaching about condo law and finance at association meetings
and at Broward and Palm Beach colleges. These classes -- for both condo
dwellers and association leaders alike --have been among the best
reforms the condo ombudsman’s office has brought, Bill Raphan said.
“I think people want some
accountability in their leaders," he said. “It is not enough for
them to say ‘Gee, I didn’t know that.’ That is not good
Many say that condo association officers are
becoming more educated and are better able to lead their
communities. They credit the Raphans.
“Bill gives excellent classes,’’
said Jan Bergemann, a grassroots activist who started Cyber Citizens for
Justice, a Florida-based website that focuses on condo and homeowner’s
Bergemann, however, thinks the condo
ombudman’s office could do more, such as advocating for owners. But
Colleen Donahue, the interim Ombudsman who is based in Tallahassee, said
her agency cannot act for owners.
“Our office is not to be an advocate,
but to be a neutral source,’’ she said.
Still, the Raphans will try to help
homeowners. Susan Raphan said she phones condo boards to alert them of
problems. “We can’t force them to do anything,’’ she said. But
many boards will try to resolve issues, she said. That helps condo
owners – and their ombudsman boss appreciates the Raphans’ efforts,
which can include extensive travel.
They are “doing an excellent job down
there," said Donahue.
“I am a huge fan," agreed Donna D.
Berger, a condo and homeowner’s association attorney who is executive
director of the Community Advocacy Network. She praised Bill Raphan for
his ability to get so much done with a small staff that includes his
wife and part-timers.
“His heart is in the right place and he
understands the daily issues with which condominium owners and directors
must contend,’’ Berger said. “Right now he is understaffed,
underfunded and yet, he and his staff still try to do the best they can
to make a difference in these owners’ lives. He has embarked on a very
ambitious educational program and his energy seems boundless."
Recently, the Raphans were teaching about
condo law to about three dozen condo dwellers at a Broward College
seminar at the north campus. Most did not know that the Legislature
passed a law ousting any condo board member who is more than 90 days
delinquent on paying. “It is automatic," Bill Raphan said.
He also told the class that boards should
use discretion – and common sense -- in passing rules. One board went
overboard, he said, in banning children from a condo complex for more
than six hours a day. Some board members had become upset that an owner
was caring for a child, but they agreed to rescind the new law after the
Condo living is an adjustment, the
“I have a noise complaint," said
seminar attendee Denise Bednarek.
“Welcome to the club," Bill Raphan
said, adding that noisy neighbors is one of the most common complaints.
Right now, the Raphans are swamped with
answering calls about condo board elections and budgets.
This is the time of the year when most
annual meetings are held, and budgets are set for a new year. Many
people still need to learn about the importance of setting reserve funds
to help pay for expensive projects such as roof replacements, Susan
Complicating matters: Many condo
associations have had to pass special assessments or raise monthly
maintenance fees to offset foreclosures in their complex. Some also have
to contend with owners who quit paying both their condo mortgage and
association dues. Those who continue paying often have to pay more.
He agrees with the paying residents that
it is not fair they have to take on an extra burden. But he said the
associations have to raise money to pay for basic service like water and
If they don’t, they can put condos in
dire straits. Some associations can’t even afford to hire property
People just need to remember the
importance of home, sweet home, Susan Raphan said.
Plus, her husband said, “this crisis
won’t go on forever."