By Christopher Russo, City Manager
(November 30, 2020) – As I discussed last month, the City is helping facilitate resident access to the State of Florida Condominium Ombudsman. Every other Monday, the Ombudsman is working out of the SIB Government Center and is available to meet with condominium unit owners, board members, and associations.
I want to introduce you to the State of Florida’s Condominium Ombudsman. Spencer Hennings was appointed as the Condominium Ombudsman in July 2020 by the Governor. Originally from Florida, Spencer grew up in the South Florida area and his experience with transactional real estate law provides a strong foundation for his work. As a new Ombudsman, Spencer is eager for this unique opportunity to help individuals throughout the entire state of Florida with stimulating and rewarding work.
Spencer’s role as Ombudsman consists of four main tasks: election monitoring, education, facilitating effective communication, and making recommendations for new condominium laws. He functions as an external liaison and neutral third party for the state of Florida with the primary purpose of resolving issues before they become official complaints with the State, arbitration or litigation.
One of the best resources the Office of the Condominium Ombudsman can offer is election monitoring. In condominiums, unit owners have no rights to run the association or property beyond voting for the board. This makes elections of the utmost importance. If a condo creates a petition and obtains 15% of the unit owners’ signatures, the Ombudsman will appoint an election monitor who is trained and independent. This individual will conduct the election to ensure there is no ballot tampering or misconduct.
Another way the Ombudsman can help is through education. By virtue of education about rights and responsibilities, unit owners and associations can cut an arising issue at its roots. Condominium laws are changing nearly every year; between the special interest groups that lobby for unit owners, associations or attorneys, the laws are constantly evolving. The Ombudsman will not interpret the law for residents nor tell you what will likely happen in court, but he can tell you what the law says about your issues and let you know what the possible options are for your situation.
So why would someone in Sunny Isles Beach need to meet with a Condominium Ombudsman? We all know there can be three sides to every story and Spencer says that can be the most challenging part of condominium disputes. But by facilitating what he describes as a ‘meeting of the minds’ with all affected parties, they can move closer to resolving the issue with effective communication. He states that the cause of these disputes and issues is primarily a lack of transparency and communication. If a unit owner and a condo association are involved in a conflict, the Ombudsman can help navigate the issue in order to resolve it before it escalates. This could include disputes over records requests, disagreements about opening public spaces during the pandemic, or unwarranted application denials.
In a mutual agreement between the State and Sunny Isles Beach, Spencer will be working out of our Government Center twice a month to be more accessible to our residents and also our neighboring communities. The main office of the Condominium Ombudsman is located in Fort Lauderdale, with another office in Tallahassee. But now, anyone in Miami-Dade County is welcome to make an appointment and meet with Spencer in Sunny Isles Beach or call to utilize his expertise.
I want to again thank Spencer’s colleagues from the DBPR, Director of the Division of Florida Condominiums, Boyd McAdams; Deputy Secretary of Business Regulation, Michael B. Johnston; and Secretary Halsey Beshears who all helped make this arrangement possible. You can make an appointment with the Condominium Ombudsman by calling my office at 305.792.1909. More information about the Condominium Ombudsman is available at sibfl.net/ombudsman.