By Pat Loeb

CITY HALL (CBS) — It’s something PGW has been doing since 2009.

A federal judge’s ruling this week would force PGW to alert landlords before they put liens on rental properties, if tenants fail to pay their bills.  It’s a victory for the five landlords who brought the suit, but also some 40-thousand others who’ve been socked with a PGW lien.

PGW has placed some 80-thousand liens, for more than 70-Million dollars, on unsuspecting landlords whose tenants skipped without paying the gas bill.

Judge Curtis Joyner voided those in his ruling and said if PGW wants to keep going after landlords for the bills, it has to first devise a way to give them adequate notice, something he said would be cheap and easy, scolding PGW for steadfastly insisting it doesn’t have to.

Landlords’ attorney John Grogan said his clients are thrilled, but regret that it took a court order.

“We think the city could have made these changes but they refused to do that,” Grogan said.

Grogan said the problem was they weren’t giving the landlord any notice until the tenant was gone.

“They need to know to take steps to get the tenants to pay or to pay off a small amount of average at an early stage so that average doesn’t grow, and grow, and grow without their knowledge,” Grogan said.

A PGW spokesman said the utility is studying the decision before it decides whether to appeal.