04/04/2013 04:38 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Toronto's ombudsman says city's Below Market Rental program charged steep rents

TORONTO - Toronto's ombudsman says a program meant to provide affordable services for the city's poor let tenants down by breaking promises and charging steep rents.

Fiona Crean has issued a report saying the city's Below Market Rental program has been raising rents without notifying tenants, sometimes by as much as 550 per cent over three years.

The program offers low rent to non-governmental organizations for city-owned spaces, in return for low-cost programs for Toronto residents.

Crean says BMR was not transparent about the reasons for the sharp increases and says she had trouble getting firm numbers from the program.

She also says the city failed to provide the tenant agencies with written notices of increases, and didn't keep records of meetings with complainants.

City council unanimously voted to adopt the 22 recommendations tabled in her report, including apologizing to tenants for the treatment they received.

While some councillors attributed the lapses to a shortage of staff at BMR, Coun. Gloria Lindsay Luby criticized employees for not fulfilling their duties.

"Until that department is shaken up and people are made to do their jobs properly, without literally screwing around with their clients, we're not going to move forward," Lindsay Luby said.