May 9, 2005
The Office of the Condominium Ombudsman was created by the 2004
Legislature and codified under Chapter 718.5011 of the Florida
Statutes (The Ombudsman Statute). The purpose of the Office is
to provide education and assistance to condominium owners, to
act as a liaison between the owners and their managers and directors,
to resolve complaints, and to facilitate voluntary resolution
of disputes. The Office is mandated to assist, monitor, conduct,
and review condominium elections and meetings. The Ombudsman is
required to make reports and legislative recommendations relative
to the Division of Condominiums’ rules, procedures, jurisdiction,
personnel, and functions. The Office is to oversee the governance
and regulation of over 18,000 condominium associations, consisting
of approximately 1.1 million condominium units.
The principal Office of the Ombudsman is located in Tallahassee
and housed within the Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums,
and Mobile Homes of the Department of Business and Professional
Regulation. The Division of Florida Land Sales, Condominiums,
and Mobile Homes Trust Fund finances the functions of the Office.
The Ombudsman, an administrative assistant, and several volunteers
currently staff the Office. The volunteers work at their maximum
productivity levels and have honed their procedures to offer a
specialized, efficient and valuable service.
The Tallahassee Office has a full-time administrative assistant
who is also a member of the Florida Bar. Besides coordinating
the operation of the Office’s administrative affairs, she
attempts to interact with the Division of Condominiums for access
and use of their files and records, as instructed by the Ombudsman
pursuant to Section 718.5012(1), Florida Statutes.
Because of the demand for a liaison, election monitor, mediator,
Office coordinator and representative in Southeast Florida, the
Ombudsman himself operates in that area of Fort Lauderdale. It
is anticipated that a satellite Office will be established there
with the concurrence of the Governor and if the upcoming budget
permits. Budgetary constraints prohibit frequent travel from Tallahassee
and Fort Lauderdale to all other areas of the state that command
the Ombudsman’s presence.
Governor Jeb Bush appointed the Ombudsman, Dr. Virgil Rizzo, early
in December 2004. The Office began functioning shortly thereafter,
and by January 2005 it was receiving calls, mail and emails from
numerous condominium owners. Currently the Office handles over
400 inquiries a week. Most of the inquiries and requests for assistance
and election monitoring originate in Broward, Palm Beach, and
Miami-Dade counties. Most of the inquiries and requests are dealt
with by telephone and email replies. Approximately 75% of the
issues, disputes, complaints, and problems are resolved by communication,
information, and assistance within a day or two of their receipt.
During the first quarter of its existence the Ombudsman’s
Office received a total of 3,556 inquiries. From inception, the
complaints and requests were separated and logged into different
categories and subcategories. Many categories overlapped and most
involve an aspect of education, information and procedural assistance.
About thirty-five percent (35%)
were about Board of Director Mismanagement
finances, general operation, maintenance, and assessments. Twenty
of the complaints related to
Officer and Director Abuse
during meetings, about records,
by selective rule enforcement, lease-sale-transfer refusal, and
general harassment. Ten percent (10%)
regarding similar Abuse By Community Association Managers
(CAMs) and condominium management companies.
of the inquiries concerned Rule
Fifteen percent (15%)
to Election and Recall
situations and issues.
SUMMARY OF MAJOR CATEGORIES OF INQUIRIES
(General and Fiscal)
||OFFICER AND DIRECTOR ABUSE (Harassment, Rules, Records)
||· RULE VIOLATIONS
(Enforcement, Lack of Enforcement)
||ELECTION PROBLEMS AND RECALL
||MANAGER (CAM) AND MANAGEMENT COMPANY ABUSE
The Ombudsman’s Office resolves seventy-five
percent (75%) of the cases it handles.
The exceptionally high performance ratio of success per contact
is achieved by its innovative RESPONSE-INTERVENTION-RESOLUTION
procedural approach. The three-phase system consists of the
1. Response: Over 90% of the inquiries and
complaints (telephone calls, emails, faxes, and mail) that come
to the Office are answered within 24 hours. About 10% are informational
and can be resolved immediately.
2. Intervention: A member of the staff will
endeavor to contact all sides of the issue. This may include
unit owners, board members, officers, property managers, and
attorneys. The Office will then evaluate the situation and decide
what action should be taken.
3. Resolution: By opening the channels of communication
between the parties, most disputes can be settled or referred
to an appropriate state agency within a few days.
This approach offers the much-needed effective outlet that the
State recognized as a priority when it created the Office of
the Ombudsman. Before the establishment of the Ombudsman’s
Office, no mechanism existed for a person with a condominium
problem to obtain action other than the court system or the
Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division
of Condominiums (Division). The use of the overcrowded court
system to resolve a dispute is a lengthy and costly matter.
The Division’s complaint system is bogged down in its
own inefficient and ineffective lengthy procedural problems
that have recently been exposed in the April 2005 report of
the State Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government
The Ombudsman’s Office and its Response-Intervention-Resolution
approach puts it in the unique position of being able to resolve
disputes amongst board members or other unit owners that are
not addressed by or do not fall within the guidelines of the
jurisdiction of the DBPR. The Division does not handle bylaw
problems, rule and regulation issues, issues concerning parking,
contractual disputes, discrimination, maintenance, common elements,
material alterations, violations of condominium documents, and
questions about parliamentary procedure. The statutory powers
and duties of the Ombudsman’s Office allow it to effectively
receive, evaluate and informally resolve all aspects of condominium
The staff and Ombudsman contact the individuals to try and resolve
their issues within 24 hours of first being contacted. The Ombudsman
himself directly contacts all legal professionals and legislative
staff. The first aspect of response is to ascertain all of the
facts relating to the particular situation by listening to the
individual, board member, unit owner, manager, realtor, agent
or attorney that had contacted the Office. This is then followed
by an explanation of the procedures and the law relating to
the matter. The next step is to intervene and to suggest options
for resolution, followed by a plan and course of action to bring
about a satisfactory result. Different solutions are proposed,
depending upon the severity of the problem. The quickest and
simplest resolution is always proposed first.
Many issues and complaints are simply resolved by a phone call
to a member of the association or board regarding the problem,
and an equitable solution is almost always achieved. Sometimes
an agent of the association, manager or management company would
be the only contact available. Most contacts attempt to assist
the Ombudsman’s Office to resolve a dispute. However,
some CAMs have intentionally defied and obstructed any proposal
for a solution. These situations require the Ombudsman himself
to intercede and notify the board members of the issue sought
to be resolved and the problem of the uncooperative manager.
Sometimes, even the attorney for the association has prevented
the Ombudsman from resolving simple problems. Avenues are being
explored to avoid this kind of situation that taxes the resources
of the Office and causes undue expense to the parties involved.
Simple problems regarding general mismanagement of an association
are occasionally brought to the attention of the board of directors
by an informational and instructional letter. When many specific
issues are involved, the Ombudsman’s Office enumerates them
in a letter and requests that the board of directors consider
them and apprise the Office of the association’s plan to
remedy those specific issues. Sometimes the Ombudsman informally
meets with the members of the association to assist them in the
operation of their condominium in an effort to promote a healthy,
happy, peaceful coexistence.
Resolution of more serious issues is by proposed mediation, which
suggestion in and of itself usually brings about a favorable result.
Some situations require referral of an individual to the Division
of Condominium’s complaint process. The Ombudsman’s
Office does not currently have the staff and facilities to investigate
and handle complaints regarding serious financial abuse, misconduct
or fiscal mismanagement. Serious alleged election misconduct and
instances where a board of directors refuse to recognize and certify
a Petition for their Recall are issues that are presently referred
to the Division for resolution.
The Election Monitoring section of the Ombudsman’s Office
has progressed to a desirable and respected level of control and
oversight of condominium elections. The Office presently conducts
and monitors between one and four elections a week. Several election
monitors have been trained to provide this service, as coordinated
by the Ombudsman. The election monitoring process and procedures
instituted by the Ombudsman have been very effective in providing
fair and impartial elections that are free from any appearance
of fraud and impropriety, much to the satisfaction of the condominium
unit owners who had requested that service. Some association directors,
managers and their attorneys at times have attempted to obstruct
the Ombudsman’s election procedures, but soon come to realize
that there is no substitute for the appearance of fairness of
an election. Pursuant to statute, the individual associations
pay the cost of the election monitor. The procedures that are
being constantly put into place are becoming more and more effective.
The objective of the election monitor program is to satisfy and
ensure unit owners that their election process is fair and free
of fraud. There are still procedural situations to be addressed
that require the utmost cooperation of the association to prevent
any election system abuse. It appears that the election monitor
may in some instances be required to take over the complete procedural
election process to ensure that the election is conducted properly.
Currently the election monitor obtains voters’ names from
the county appraiser’s list of condominium unit ownership.
This list is then coordinated with the association’s verified
roster and designated voters’ list to ensure that only the
proper unit owners may vote. In some instances these list will
be used to verify that an appropriate signature is affixed to
the ballot envelope. The monitor may ultimately become responsible
to send and receive all election notices and correspondence for
the association. At the time and place of the election, the monitor,
with the assistance of associate monitors and volunteers, will
conduct the election. This procedure is designed to prevent any
undue interference with the election process and ensure a fair,
efficient and proper election.
Since its inception, the Office has monitored and conducted nineteen
(19) elections. Some improper election situations required the
monitor to request the board to re-notice and redo the election.
Only one association refused at the insistence of its attorney;
which case was referred to the Division for evaluation. As the
election procedures are improved, and with the cooperation of
the association, these situations should seldom occur.
The Education Section of the Ombudsman’s Office is a work
in progress. This type of project requires extensive resources
to establish and implement a system that will provide “the
largest possible audience” with education and reference
materials. The Ombudsman is working with different educators and
educational institutions to create pilot programs and a comprehensive
education plan. Experience shows that there are many organizations
that offer education to persons associated with condominiums.
Last year the DBPR awarded a $500,000 contract to the Community
Associations Institute (CAI) to provide education to associations.
There is some question as to the programs effectiveness and whether
CAI has reached the intended target audience.
Licensed Community Association Managers (CAMs) are required to
maintain continued education accreditation to maintain their CAM
license. Certain private organizations provided these continued
education courses and credits to CAMs for a set fee. Since these
education sources are already in place and have the approval of
the State, they may provide a resource for unit owners. Research
is being done as to the economical feasibility of using these
organizations and as to the material content they provide.
Certain “coalition groups” provide excellent education
courses to associations. However, these “coalitions”
only operate in limited areas of the state. An effort is being
pursued to coordinate and expand this resource.
This Office finds that the directors of associations, as volunteers,
are unable or unwilling to undertake education courses because
of individual time and other logistical constraints. However,
from the requests received, this Office feels that there is an
interest in “issue related” information, education
and guidance that a director may need. The Office is presently
working to provide an inexpensive internet source directed to
recurrent issues of concern that an individual director or unit
owner may be confronting or experiencing. Information regarding
the “issue” will not only be presented and clarified,
but there will also be a legal reference regarding its foundation.
It is anticipated that this will soon be available on the State’s
Of major importance and of general and statewide concern is that
of procedural matters in the conduct of condominium unit owner
and board of director meetings. The Division and the Legislature
has provided some guidance. The Ombudsman’s Office intends
to recommend that education regarding procedures for the conducting
and handling of condominium meetings be specifically defined by
administrative rule, or made available in a comprehensive guide
The Office of the Ombudsman is currently considering a pilot program
regarding general condominium operation that will be offered through
Florida community colleges. Community college education courses,
an interactive website, personal lecture appearances, and distribution
of condominium operational materials to every condominium association
is envisioned to provide the necessary education and information
references to all interested persons.
The Ombudsman’s Office is required by Section 718.5012(3)
of the Florida Statutes to make recommendations appropriate for
legislation relative to Division procedures, rules, jurisdiction,
personnel, and functions. The Ombudsman’s Office from its
own experience confirms the findings of the recent report of OPPAGA
that showed that the Division’s procedures, rules, personnel
and functions are inefficient and ineffective. The Ombudsman’s
Office has reviewed the Condominium Administrative Rules (Chapters
61B-15 through 61B-25, Florida Administrative Code) promulgated
by the Division to interpret, enforce, and implement the Condominium
Act. It is the opinion of the Office that those rules and procedures
are not only confusing, obsolete and impractical, but also ineffective,
inefficient, antiquated and in serious need of complete revision.
The Office recommends that a committee comprised of persons knowledgeable
in condominium law, knowledgeable about the problems associated
with condominium fiscal and general mismanagement, and knowledgeable
about the practical operation of condominium associations and
corporations be established to rewrite those administrative rules.
This Office submits with this report Legislative Recommendations
regarding recurring issues and problems that have been encountered
throughout this first quarter of 2005, and attaches those recommendations
to this report. The purposes of the recommended individual legislative
changes are recommended to solve many of the complaint and inquiry
issues that have been presented to the Ombudsman’s Office.