Debra Williams lived as tenant in a “shed” owned by Gonzales Councilman Timothy Vessel, Sr. from May 1, 2012 until her eviction on February 4, 2013, barely a month after he assumed office. Two days later Williams filed a complaint with the Gonzales Police Department asserting that she had been living in a “shed” owned by Vessel and paying him $550.00 a month rent, utilities included. Williams also claimed that Vessel had been stealing utilities to serve her “shed” which is located between two residences at 309 and 315 Verna St. owned by Vessel. According to Williams, power to her “shed” was being pulled from both residences and water from the 309 Verna St. address. She was receiving her mail at the 309 Verna St. address.
Williams’ accusations were investigated by representatives of the Gonzales Police Department, the Gonzales Fire Department and City of Gonzales building officials on February 7. No criminal violations were found, though Vessel was cited for numerous zoning, building and rental code violations.
It was definitively concluded that the “shed” described by Ms. Williams was indeed being employed as a residence and was being supplied utilities from 309 and 315 Verna St residences. It is impermissible to collect rent on such an unregistered location.
Gonzales City Code states in Ordinance 22.8: “Every building…shall be located on a lot of record and in no case shall there be more than one main building on one lot.”
Vessel had an occupational license issued by the City of Gonzales allowing him to rent out properties. Even so, the “shed” occupied by Debra Williams is not a property of record and cannot be rented out legally. It could not be used as a home, only for storage.
Vessel was given ten days in which to remedy the violations of code provisions, among them, ‘A building or structure shall be supplied by only one service,’ and he did so.
That code compliance has not satisfied Debra Williams. She contends that Vessel evicted her from her “shed” because she invited an employee of the City of Gonzales onto “his property” on February 1 against his wishes.
Williams stated she was trying to sell the city employee Mary Kay products. She claims that Vessel forbade her from talking to city employees, telling her he “did not want them on his property.”
Williams said she attempted to pay her rent by money order that day, but Vessel refused to accept it, insisting only on cash.
She complained to Gonzales Police Department officers the following day because she feared eviction, notice of which arrived on February 4. Having nowhere else to go, Williams vacated only after Vessel “shut off her water.”
Williams attempted to file a wrongful eviction suit against Vessel because “what he did to me is just plain wrong. I would’ve been on the street if not for friends.” She could not afford the $100.00 filing fee required by the Justice of the Peace.
Her resentment still apparent, Debra Williams guaranteed that Vessel “won’t get away with what he did” assuring that she would file the suit “once she scraped up the money.”
Councilman Vessel was contacted by The Creole and given the opportunity to respond to Debra Williams’ allegations or comment generally. Abruptly he blurted out, “I don’t have no dealings with The Creole, buddy” and hung up.
Vessel is currently charged with violating Louisiana Revised Statute 14:67.6, Theft of Utility Services, due to a previous citing. He was issued a misdemeanor summons by the Gonzales Police Department on December 17, 2012. He is alleged to have run an electrical cord from an uninhabited Vesta Trailer Park lot at 2228 S. Burnside Ave., Gonzales, to his residence at 193 Verna St. in late November, 2012, less than a month after his election to the City Council. His May 8, 2013 misdemeanor criminal trial was continued to July 10, 2013 when his motion for continuance was granted by the Ascension Parish Court.