06/06/2013 02:23 EDT | Updated 08/06/2013 05:12 EDT

TCH unfairly evicting seniors, Toronto ombudsman says

Toronto Community Housing is failing to protect seniors from unfair evictions and is not following its own guidelines to use the measure as a "last resort," the city's ombudsman says.

"It is clear the people who are paying the price are the most vulnerable in our society, seniors who are poor, many of whom are vulnerable with failing health and mental health challenges," said Fiona Crean in releasing her 110-page report that included 30 recommendations for the housing authority.

Canada's largest municipal landlord had promised to amend its policy regarding eviction of vulnerable tenants after an inquiry into the death of 81-year-old Al Gosling in 2010. Gosling died five months after he was evicted for being in behind on his rent, leaving him homeless.

"My investigation has found TCHC staff did not change their practices," Crean said. "Instead there’s been a pattern of callous and unfair treatment of many seniors, including at least one case in which a tenant died shortly after eviction.”

The Ombudsman reviewed 79 TCH tenant files on seniors who were evicted between 2011 and 2012.

One example cited in the report was "Mr. B", who was late in reporting a change of income to the housing board. The retroactive increase to his rent meant he suddenly owed TCH over $3,000.

The man was evicted by TCH three years later after accumulating further arrears and died shortly thereafter from a heart attack.

Crean found there "are no standards for how long seniors have to pay back arrears," or the amount the board can require them to re-pay in addition to their rent.

She also noted there is no "personal contact" between staff and seniors who have fallen behind on rent. Instead they receive "excessive bureaucratic letters" that are "poorly written and confusing."

Some of the Ombudsman's recommendations to correct these problems include:

- That eviction be a last resort and not a first resort

- That when tenant arrears first occur, early interventions are made by staff with personal visits wherever possible

- That amounts of arrears be properly calculated with plain language explanations of the figures and communicated to the tenant.

- That any review conducted by staff that may precipitate penalties for the tenant up to and including eviction must be done thoroughly and objectively, without bias

According to the Ombudsman's office, all the recommendations have been accepted by TCH.