Condo Commando - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Condo Commando

The nightmares have become legendary: people living in condos, under the thumb of unfair condo boards, or individuals who've become known as condo commandos. There wasn't anything anyone could do about their bossy behavior until now. Governor Bush appointed an ombudsman late last year and he has the power to fight for your rights.

Florida is home to roughly one-million condominium units and each condo community has it's own regulations and by-laws that are often hard to understand. That can lead to frustration, even anger, for unit owners and they had no place to go to voice their grievances, or to find information to best run their situation, their community.

So late last year Governor Bush established an ombudsman to oversee all the condos in the state of Florida with the power to make policy and to make recommendations. A semi-retired doctor and lawyer, Virgil Rizzo was chosen for the job.

"Every day is a challenge. It's a brand-new position, just created."

Dr. Rizzo responsibilities include educating condo boards and unit owners, mediating disputes, and making recommendations to state lawmakers. Yet he is the only paid staff member. He has some volunteers and they all operate out of their homes. Bill Raphan and his wife Susan answer the phone calls.

"These people are frustrated. They have multiple problems. It can be people who are unit owners or it can be board members."

With state law at their fingertips Bill and his wife can intervene in a dispute or respond to questions. Nearly half the calls are just for information. But some calls are complaints about those condo commandos. The board members that maintain a tight grip on the community. Dr. Rizzo says. Even "they" are learning.

"These condo commandos realize that there are laws and that somebody is now looking at them - even the legislature - to show them you have to treat people like people."

Dr. Rizzo and his volunteers have responded to more than 450 complaints so far, mostly from counties in South Florida.

"We've gotten so much good reports that the word is getting out and I don't know how we're really going to handle it."

That's Val Lucier. He monitors and actually conducts condo elections. All it takes is a petition signed by 15% of a condo community for him to conduct an election and guarantee that it's fair.

"There is another procedure now. A recall procedure. If the ballot process. They can't get a fair shake. They can get together on their own and get a petition and get rid of their Directors."

Many directors are calling now themselves, he says, to get advice on proper conduct. And what about the future?

"The idea is to have a uniform set of rules for all condominiums so there's no disputes. It's cut and dried--and make it clear for the lay person to understand."

At this time the ombudsman can only intervene or give advice in issues regarding condominiums and not Home Owner's Associations. So, Dr. Rizzo and his volunteers cannot help you if you live in an HOA.

You can reach the Condo Ombudsman by phone at: 850-922-7671. The call will go to voice mail but Bill Raphan returns calls seven days a week. Or you can reach Dr. Rizzo via his e-mail which is

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