New class teaches condo owners their rights and rules

A BCC class gives anyone involved in condominium living a primer on their rights and rules.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald


Published September 9, 2007

Bill Raphan isn't shy about telling people how valuable his course, Condominium Rights & Obligations, is.

''Anybody who lives in a condominium should absolutely take this class,'' he said emphatically.

Raphan, Florida's assistant condo ombudsman, and his wife, Susan, of Tamarac, have offered the six-hour course at Broward Community College for several years to try and bring reason to Florida's often-controversial condo battles.

The class draws both unit owners and board members, looking to sort out the rights and responsibilities of living in a condo association under Florida law.

The Raphans work for the State Ombudsman's office, which was created in 2004 to assist unit owners, board members and condominium associations.

Bill Raphan said aging buildings are the biggest problems many associations are facing now.

''They are all 20, 30 and 40 years old and they need to be redone, and that can be costly,'' he said.

The cost is passed on to unit owners, often in the form of a special assessment, which Raphan said has become among the two ''dirtiest words'' in the English language.

Retirement brought the couple to Florida. After running a kosher catering business on Long Island for many years, they bought a condo here. Raphan took a seat on the board and quickly became president. He found out just how cutthroat the business could be after returning from a vacation.

''I came back and found I wasn't president anymore,'' he said.

His interest piqued, Raphan went to hear Virgil Rizzo, the first state ombudsman, speak in Dania Beach. They hit it off, and Rizzo offered the Raphans a chance to volunteer with his office.

The first year, he and Susan got more than 15,000 calls and 20,000 e-mails from irate unit owners.

''We were working seven days a week,'' Raphan said. ``Most of that time we were only volunteers.''

The office grew and, Raphan said, so did the calls. Now it's not just unit owners he hears from, but board members, property managers and attorneys, all needing advice and guidance. ''They all want to see what they should be doing,'' he said.

In addition to fielding calls and complaints, the office monitors condo elections and visits as many condos as possible to help at meetings and educate owners.

Raphan said the current ombudsman, Danille Carroll, believes education is the key to solving many condo issues.

''We feel that a lot of the problems are caused because people just are not informed about the statutes and the laws and what they can and can't do,'' Raphan said.

Raphan took the class over from Rizzo in 2005 and now is trying to expand it to other community colleges.

Beginning this semester, the course will include the rules of running proper condo association meetings, which Raphan said is a huge problem statewide.

He said it's not uncommon for police officers to be on hand at meetings. Someone once pulled a gun on Raphan when he was trying to explain a special assessment.

He had to be escorted out by guards.

''Someone actually asked if we were going to come back again,'' he said.

For information on condo classes, call BCC at 954-201-7800 or visit

The condo ombudsman's Fort Lauderdale satellite office is at 1400 W. Commercial Blvd. Call 954-202-3234, e-mail or visit