Condo Confidential / Ms. Management

Ombudsman critical of state condo rules

Courtesy of The Miami Herald
May 15, 2005



condoconf@aol.com

Virgil Rizzo is not afraid to bite the hand that pays his salary.

Appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in December to Florida's Office of the Condominium Ombudsman, he falls under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation's Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums and Mobile Homes.

In his first Ombudsman Quarterly Report, filed last week, Rizzo concludes that the division's rules and procedures 'are not only confusing, obsolete and impractical, but also ineffective, inefficient, antiquated and in serious need of complete revision.''

In an interview, Rizzo expressed more frustration with the division, ranging from unresponsiveness -- ''it takes a couple of weeks for me to get files requested; they're being a bit obstructive'' -- to the volume of calls he gets from the public who are unable to get help from the division, which has 40-something employees and a $3 million-plus annual budget.

Rizzo says that he, his one administrative assistant and a team of volunteers responded to more than 3,000 condo and homeowner association inquiries and complaints in the last four months.

Over 90 percent of the inquiries and complaints he receives, he says, are answered within 24 hours. The other 10 percent are informational and are resolved immediately.

Rizzo, 67, who earns $65,000 a year in the post, describes himself as a "toothless tiger with strong gums.''

His report -- which reaches many of the same conclusions as the April report of the state Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability -- recommends that an expert committee proficient in condominium law, condo fiscal and general mismanagement, and the practical operation of condo associations rewrite the administrative rules altogether.

Meg Shannon, the division's director of communications, disputes both reports.

''We began overhauling the division in early 2004,'' Shannon said. ``The ombudsman's quarterly report, much like the OPPAGA report, paints an inaccurate picture of the division, where we are currently and the numbers that reflect our successes.''

Condo owners interested in reading the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability's April report and the ombudsman's seven-page report can do so on the Cyber Citizens for Justice website, www.ccfj.net. The OPPAGA report is also available at the state website, myflorida.com, though as of late last week Rizzo's had yet to be posted on the state site.

Before the ombudsman's office was established, the only options were to go through the court system or the DBPR, which oversees the governance of an estimated 18,000 condominium associations statewide.

The retired doctor-lawyer-cum-ombudsman's red badge of courage is his experience with his condo association in Fort Lauderdale. Rizzo says the board president took $200,000 without anyone's knowledge or permission and opened up a certificate of deposit.

''He just had a dumb attack,'' Rizzo says. To make matters worse, the bank went under. "Insurance companies will step in to cover a mistake but they don't want to set a precedent by paying out for a board member's stupidity.''

Rizzo said the experience steeled him for his new position. ''I think they just wanted a bureaucrat to sit in the office and do nothing,'' he said. "I don't they ever expected me and the advantage of my age, lack of political agenda, friends, volunteers and economics.''

Rizzo says he's happy to be of service to condo owners.

"It doesn't cost you a dime and maybe I can help and maybe I can't, but what's the harm in my trying?''

You can reach him at: ombudsman@dbpr.state.fl.us or by calling 1-850-922-7671.


SEE:  CONDOMINIUM OMBUDSMAN QUARTERLY REPORT


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