A Maple Ridge landlord took apart the windows and doors of his rental property to extort rent from tenants and is now coercing the family to move out
A tenancy dispute in Maple Ridge, B.C., made national headlines last month, when a landlord dismantled the windows and doors of his rental property while the tenant was gone. Jamie Hemson, the renter, revealed to INN24 that the CTV coverage—along with reports by other news outlets—was not only reductive but also incorrect. To Hemson, these news reports sensationalized the situation to the local community and the entire country at large.
“There were so many facts that were left out,” she said. “I was so nervous about being on camera, I hadn’t even realised the mistakes [the reporter] made.”
On Aug. 8, CTV reported1 that Hemson had missed two months of rent in July and August. Her landlord, Tiger Zhang, unceremoniously removed the windows and the front door while she was out of the house. Reporter Ben Miljure managed to get a statement from the landlord, who admitted blame but justified his actions with his ignorance of local tenancy laws. Zhang told CTV it would be “better” if the family moved because they were giving him “too much trouble.”2
However, Hemson said that was not the full story in an interview with INN24 on Aug. 25.
She said she arrived home on Aug. 1 to find an empty doorframe and had initially thought she left the door open that morning. Only when she entered her home did she realize her property had been plundered. Most of her personal effects—many of which were either thrifted or donated to her family—were stolen, including a new computer for her teenage son’s upcoming school year.
Hemson said she called the police immediately. While she suspected her landlord was the culprit who took the house apart, authorities could not arrest him since none of the neighbours witnessed the landlord’s actions, nor the subsequent robbery by local ruffians.
When interviewed by CTV, Zhang acknowledged his offence.
“I took off the windows, the doors,” he admitted. “For me, I think I think it’s wrong.”³
Hemson’s house was “open for anyone to come in” for four days before it was boarded up with plywood, she said. Since the incident occurred during a long weekend, Hemson said she could not solicit the help of the Maple Ridge Residential Tenancy Board until the following Tuesday.
The door and windows were finally restored on Aug. 12.
On camera, Zhang expressed remorse for his actions and deemed the incident a teachable moment for future conflict.
“This case I think is really a lesson to teach me how to find a right way to fix up this problem,” he said to CTV.⁴
Despite this confession, Hemson said Zhang did not improve his treatment toward her in the aftermath of the broadcast. She claimed Zhang tried to impose a $300 fine on her for wasting his time and tarnishing his name.
It turns out Hemson did not owe Zhang rent.
“I forgot the government gave me the extra $300 but it got mailed to Tiger,” Hemson said.
His removal of the front door and windows was allegedly motivated by an outstanding $900, but upon consulting a tenancy advocate to recalculate arrears, Hemson discovered Zhang had not only received sufficient payment for July but was also overcompensated with her Income Assistance cheque.
“I have proof of it all: I had overpaid $31.46 as of August 1,” Hemson told us, while providing receipts.
Hemson said that in the months leading up to the incident, she had made a concerted effort to ensure her rent would be covered even during the pandemic. As an immunocompromised healthcare worker, Hemson could not work during the viral outbreak, lest she imperiled herself or her chronically ill son.
She said applied for the Homeless Prevention Program (HPP) in late March, shortly after she moved back to Zhang’s property. In February, Hemson and her two children, 5 and 13, had moved to a transition home to flee Hemson’s abusive partner.
The HPP is a provincial program that aids those at risk of homelessness, including women who have sustained domestic violence, by providing rent supplements and support services.⁵
The program would directly give her landlord $600 a month for one year. The HPP application required Zhang’s signature, but according to Hemson, he refused on grounds that she harboured a subletter from April to May without his written permission, as required by law.⁶
Hemson said that she did bring in a roommate to help relieve some of her financial strain, but she was unaware of the province’s subletting policies at the time.
By mid-June, Hemson said she no longer had a roommate, but Zhang refused to sign the HPP form.
“I still came up with the money,” she said. “And instead me and my kids went without the things that we needed.”
From March to May, she said she had also paid an extra $250 a month as advance rent payment toward subsequent months, a detail that CTV and other outlets neglected in their reports. To her, this surplus was a proactive measure against any unforeseen trouble the pandemic would bring. It was an effort to protect not just her own family but also Zhang’s, she said.
“I sent an email to him: ‘I don’t want your family to be burdened by this. I want to make sure you guys have that money.’”
Hemson said that despite this gesture of goodwill, Zhang stood firm in his resolve. Undeterred, she tried to devise a payment plan, but he declined to sign the form. She said she also offered to help renovate the house to boost its market value.
“He just made life harder on both of us when it was unnecessary,” she said. “I tried and put everything in place so that there would be no burden on him.”
On Aug. 14, Zhang placed a 24-hour lockdown on the rental home for a full inspection, during which he examined the house to record and photograph any property damage. Hemson said that any existing damage was caused by Zhang himself when he disassembled the door and windows. She said she believes this was a vindictive measure against her getting media involvement.
But Zhang’s reputation was not the only one besmirched by the national broadcast, Hemson said.
“Because we have been broadcasted all over Maple Ridge,” she said, “all the landlords don’t want to rent to me now. They see me as a person that doesn’t pay rent.”
In the wake of the media circus, Hemson found herself and her family subjected to the indiscriminate scrutiny of strangers online, receiving verbal harassment in comment threads and private messages on Facebook. She now hopes to regain control of her own narrative.
“I had to take those actions in order to survive and protect my kids—and now I’m being punished for it.”
Hemson told INN24 that Zhang has issued five eviction notices since the dispute became nationally publicized. She claimed only one of the eviction statements is authentic while the rest are fabricated. Zhang wanted her family out by Sept. 1, which coincides with the end of B.C.’s eviction moratorium.
According to the province’s COVID-19 tenancy procedures, “A landlord may issue a Notice to End Tenancy for unpaid rent or utilities if […] the tenant fails to pay full rent due after August 17, 2020 (for most renters that would be September 1, 2020).”⁷
Things got worse for Hemson on Aug. 21, when her neighbourhood was hit with a torrential downpour, flooding the basement of her rental home. At that point, Zhang had refused to communicate with Hemson so her pleas for assistance went ignored. After a few days of inattention, the basement began to smell of mould.
Hemson said that Zhang has a history of abandoning his duties of upkeep.
“This was an issue I brought up to him in January, because it flooded back in January,” she said. “And I had to deal with it. He was supposed to come in here and fix it, but he never came.”
Hemson said she resorted to soaking up the moisture with fabrics around her home, salvaging what she could from the water damage.
Much like CTV, Maple Ridge News also misreported several details, including the amount of rent she owed, the date the house was repaired, and the aftermath of the ordeal.⁸ The local news outlet reported that after the CTV segment, the family was offered free lodgings in a home in White Rock, B.C., but Hemson said that was not the case.
Maple Ridge News also reported that Hemson’s plight had garnered the sympathy of the government and readers alike. They wrote that a benefactor had donated a lump sum of $3,000 to Hemson and her family,⁹ which she also refuted.
“None of that is true,” she told INN24. “Yes, there was a GoFundMe but that’s the only thing that has come my way.”
The online fundraiser has a target of $2,450, the exact denomination of Hemson’s monthly rent at Zhang’s property, excluding bills and other expenses. So far, no one has contributed to the cause.
Hemson’s dispute with her landlord is compounded by a host of other personal complications as well. Her father was recently hospitalized due to a stroke and is currently in critical condition. Hemson’s mother is planning to move in with her daughter and grandchildren so Hemson can look after her.
On Sept. 1, Hemson’s ex-father-in-law passed away. Her two sons are now mourning the loss of their paternal grandfather.
Hemson’s older son is also currently on waitlist for surgery. The 13-year-old is anxious about starting high school via remote learning without a computer.
At the time of publication, Zhang is not giving statements to media.
1 Miljure, Ben. “Landlord removes windows and doors after Maple Ridge, B.C. mom late with rent.” CTV News. 8 Aug 2020. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/mobile/landlord-removes-windows-and-doors-after-maple-ridge-b-c-mom-late-with-rent-1.5056941
3 “Landlord removes windows in rent dispute.” CTV News. 8 Aug 2020. https://bc.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=2010778&jwsource=cl
5 “Homeless Prevention Program.” BC Housing. https://www.bchousing.org/housing-assistance/homelessness-services/homeless-prevention-program
6 “Sublet & Assignment.” Province of British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/during-a-tenancy/sublet-and-assignment#:~:text=A%20tenant%20must%20have%20their,more%20remaining%20in%20the%20term.
7 “COVID-19 and Tenancies.” Province of British Columbia. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/housing-tenancy/residential-tenancies/covid-19
8 Corbett, Neil. “Landlord takes front door, windows after single B.C. mom late with rent.” Maple Ridge News. 11 Aug 2020. https://www.mapleridgenews.com/news/landlord-takes-front-door-windows-after-single-b-c-mom-late-with-rent/