Local/State

Growing outrage over PGW collection tactics

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Philadelphia Gas Works is being criticized for what is being described as Mafia-like collection tactics.

People who have not signed contracts with the company say they are being forced to pay when someone else uses the gas.

"I am outraged. That's just putting mildly," said David Wolf.

Wolf and Gail Newman, who are both landlords, have both been hit with outrageous bills for gas they say they never used.

"I've been told until it is paid the $15,000 lien remains," said Newman.

Newman says not only did PGW fail to bill the tenant at her Germantown rental property. The company also let the gas run freely, without shutting it off.

"They did not issue a shut-off notice to his apartment until 2009, 3 years later," she said.

"I didn't sign a contract with the gas company to pay that," said Wolf. "I don't want to pay for somebody else's consumption."

Wolf was on the line for a $27,000 gas bill after one tenant skipped town, and for another $3500 for a second tenant who the gas company never collected money from.

"The gas company wants me to pay, but they don't tell me during this whole period, number one, that the tenant owes money," said Wolf, "and number two, if he doesn't pay it, they are going to come after me."

And they did. PGW put a lein on Wolf's property for a contract for gas he never signed.

"For some reason they were negligent," said Wolf, about his tenants. "I don't want to have to pay for their negligence. I only want to pay for my negligence."

"They are part of the equation, whether they signed up for it or not," said PGW spokesman Doug Oliver. "It is one of the things that comes along with doing business."

State law allows the municipal gas company to put a lien on a landlord's property.

"We will do everything we can in the interim to collect without involving landlords," said Oliver. "But at the end of the day, that money has to come from somewhere, or else everybody else is paying for it."

Oliver says either the property owner has to pay, or the cost will be passed on to 485,000 natural gas customers in the form of higher rates.

"You can probably line up 10 landlords who say, 'This is wrong, this is wrong,'" said Oliver. "And I'd line up 485,000 customers who say, 'No, no. This is right.'"

But Pennsylvania State Rep. Scott Petri from Bucks County says this kind of treatment isn't right.

"There's got to be an inducement to do the right thing and turn off the gas when someone does not pay," he said. "They can't just use this as a credit card that someone can run up on someone else's dime, which is what is happening."

Petri plans to introduce a bill in Harrisburg this session limiting the company's ability to lien property owners when the company fails to shut off the gas or notify landlords.

But he has even stronger words about the PGW's management, which he calls a mess.

"They should be sold, that's what should really happen," said Petri. "They should be sold."

After contacting the media, the gas company settled with Newman for an undisclosed amount. PGW also dropped the $27,000 lien against Wolf after a ruling that the statute of limitations had run out.

But Wolf is still battling a second $3500 lien placed on his property.

(Copyright ©2014 WPVI-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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philadelphia, Action News Investigation, local/state, wendy saltzman
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