Possible closing of Ombudsman's office worries local condo owners

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel


Published March 24, 2009

When her condominium association did not return her escrow deposit, Sunrise Lakes Phase One resident Imogene Ferguson filed a complaint with the state's Office of the Condominium Ombudsman.

Within weeks, her condominium association sent her back her deposit.

Earlier this year, Ferguson filed a complaint with the Ombudsman's office again asking for someone to supervise her association's December board elections. While she waits to hear back from the office, rumors that the Ombudsman's office could close have her and other residents worried.

"We won't have any where to go to when we have condo commandos. This was the only place we could go to," Ferguson said.

The rumors began after the state's Department of Business and Profession Regulation issued an exercise state budget last year that included the removal of the office.


However, legislators haven't reviewed the proposal yet, said Bill Raphan, spokesman for the Condominium Ombudsman's office.

"The legislature would have to approve it, it would require some talk and agreement. It will all depend on what they decide," Raphan said.

So far, the only thing residents can do is contact their legislators and ask them to maintain the office, Raphan said.

Not wanting to take a risk, Ferguson and fellow Sunrise Lakes Phase One resident Richard Brenner collected 200 signatures in their residential complex and sent them to the Condos of Hollywood Beach, a coalition of condo associations that has been collecting signatures throughout the county to pressure legislators.

"Everyone is upset at this and wanted to sign. We will have no where to go to complain. We are losing our voice, that's what's going to happen," Brenner said.

Since it was created in 2004, the Condominium Ombudsman's Office has been helping solve conflicts between condominium owners, board members and condominium associations by acting as a neutral resource of information and guidance. Last year, the office made 16,000 calls throughout the state, Raphan said.

Ferguson is very familiar with what the office does.

"They didn't resolve your problem, they tell you how to resolve it. Most of us don't know how to do it," Ferguson said.

Another important element of the office is its educational component: a series of monthly workshops that helped educate associations and owners about condominium laws.

The seven positions in the office, six in Fort Lauderdale and one in Tallahassee, are financially supported by a $4 annual fee every condominium owner paid. It's unlikely that in these economic times the fee will be raised to maintain the office, Raphan said.

Ferguson received reassurance that every case submitted before the office closes will be reviewed, but she warns this will be troubling.

"People will find out that the office is closing and will get serious about submitting complaints," Ferguson said.

The condo ombudsman's Fort Lauderdale satellite office is at 1400 W. Commercial Blvd. Call 954-202-3234, e-mail danille.carroll@dbpr.state.fl.us or visit www.myflorida.com/condos.