State panel to begin hearing condo complaints


Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Joe Kollin

Published January 10, 2005


A new state board is getting ready to lend an ear to condo owners with beefs against their boards -- and boards with beefs against owners.

The Advisory Council on Condominiums won't offer assistance to the owners or directors, but it will listen to their problems and determine whether new laws, rules or educational programs would help resolve them.

Created by the state Legislature last year as one of several ways to help improve condo living, the eight-member council conducted its first meeting on Thursday in Tallahassee.

"It was exciting. ... [The members] seem to want to do something," said council member Karen Gottlieb, a resident of Dania Beach and a force behind the state's move to reform condo and homeowner association laws.

She also praised Susan Cutchins, the new deputy secretary of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation, which ultimately oversees the Bureau of Condominiums.

"I really felt she means to help end this madness," she said.

The law establishing the council also created the new position of condo ombudsman. Gov. Jeb Bush last month appointed Virgil Rizzo of Fort Lauderdale, a retired doctor and lawyer, to the position. He and his staff will work directly with owners and boards to help resolve individual problems.

Bush, former Senate President Jim King and former House Speaker Johnnie Byrd appointed members of the advisory board late last year.

The Legislature created a similar advisory board in 1991, but it accomplished little. The board, however, didn't have the backing of influential legislators such as state Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, or of Cyber Citizens for Justice, a statewide organization of condo owners linked by computer.

At their meeting, members of the new council discussed sponsoring town hall-type meetings throughout the state to hear grievances of condo residences.

"Even if the full council isn't available, we want to make sure some of us are available to the public," said Mark Benson, who operates a Fort Myers property management firm and was elected vice chairman. "If a group or an association wants us, we'll attend. We're willing to go anywhere, anytime."

Decisions won't be made until the next meeting in mid-February in Tallahassee, said Joe Adams of Fort Myers, who was elected chairman.

Adams said the council decided to investigate the issue of hurricane damage to condos, such as the need for laws to give boards the authority to act in emergencies.

Still to be decided is how the public can contact council members. No toll-free number is available, and the law doesn't provide for one.

The council asked the state to show what it does with the more than $1 million it gets annually from condo associations, which are required to pay the state $4 a year per unit.

"We demanded straight answers, and they promised to give us a report," Gottlieb said.