Mailbox questions

I was going out of town for eight days. I wouldn’t be around on the first of the month but I didn’t want my rent check to be late. So I stopped by my landlord’s office after work and left the check in an envelope in his mailbox.

Today the envelope was returned to me. The mailman presumedly saw that it had the name of the mailbox owner on it but apparently took it back to the post office. Where they determined it did not have sufficient postage (not surprising because it had no stamp) so they opened it up and returned it to me.

My question is did they have the right to do this? Who owns the contents of a mailbox - the resident or the post office? Can the post office prohibit people from hand delivering mail? Can they confiscate mail that’s already been delivered and send it back?

If nothing else, it seems a counter-productive procedure. If I had known they were going to confiscate the letter, I could have saved myself the trouble of stopping at my landlord’s office. I could have just stuck it in my own mailbox with his return address and no stamp and let the post office “return” it to him.

Does the U.S. government own my mailbox?

Just to follow up to Gfactor’s interesting article, the postal world (I’m a postal worker, btw) is divided into two: The United States and everywhere else.

The USPS has some pretty serious enforcement powers compared to other postal administrations. US Postal Inspectors seem up there with cops, but Australia Post security (for example) is just like security hired by any other firm. People put hand-delivered stuff in my mailbox all the time. I can let my cat sleep in it, I can start a bbq in it, fill it with concrete, whatever I want. The worst that can happen is the local postman might refuse to deliver stuff if it’s dangerous or difficult for him.

If I were in the States, I’d play it safe and simply not mess with the post office.

Absolutely! In fact, they have the right to have you arrested for this, and hauled into court. (In practice, they hardly ever do so, especially not for a one-time incident like this. Even for repeated cases, they generally settle for charging you the 1st-class postage amount for each piece, plus a fine.)

No, most likely the postman never looked at it at all. It’s quite common for people (especially the elderly or disabled) to leave outgoing mail in or on their mailboxes. Postal carriers are quite used to this, and when they see one envelope in the mailbox, they will just pick it up and drop it into the ‘outgoing’ pocket of their mailbag, without ever looking carefully at it. Then when they get back to the Post Office, all those envelopes are dumped into the mail to be sorted.

So your postman probably never saw who it was addressed to at all, and thought he was doing you a favor by carrying it to the mail sorting station.

The Post Office is well aware of this scam, and takes measures to deal with it. Most of which they won’t talk about.

But the main one is that it would likely be ‘returned’ to your landlord as “postage due”, and he would have to pay the 41¢ to get it. Most landlords I’ve dealt with are such greedy pigs that they would either refuse this, and then charge you a late fee when your check wasn’t there on time; or pay the 41¢ to accept that, and then on your next months rent charge you that 41¢ plus a hefty ‘service fee’.

My brother is a UPS driver. Another UPS driver who works with my brother got in some pretty serious trouble for putting a small parcel in the recipient’s mailbox so it would be out of the rain. The postal carrier filed some kind of complaint and the driver almost got fired.

At least in my area, Eastern Missouri, the USPS and UPS/FedEx seem to have formed a cooperative of sorts. Last year I was expecting a delivery via UPS and had to leave town unexpectedly. I asked a neighbor to watch for my package. They said it never showed up. Upon my return I called the shipper and they said they’d send another item. Imagine my suprise when the UPS package was in with my US mail being held at the PO. They said it happens all the time. The UPS driver will deposit small packages back at the PO when they found no one at home.

I’d never heard of this before.

My father is a retired USPS worker. He’d often tell me stories about the Postal Inspectors. Mostly about their extremely high conviction rates. He told me they would put cash, jewelry, or other valuable items in the mail to see if a suspected letter carrier would take it. If he did, they’d pick him up before he finished his route.

Also, I worked in an office building where the postal inspectors had an office on the 6th (top) floor (I worked on the 2nd). One day, coming back from lunch, I saw 4 US postal inspectors going to work, waiting for the elevator. All 4 were wearing flak jackets and holding assault shotguns. I got the next elevator.

A local landscaper got int tons of trouble after he drove around putting his ad into all local mailboxes. More than a few people complained about missing mail over the course of several weeks, as someone was using stolen mail to conduct identity theft. The landscaper was hauled in.

One of his crew was stealing mail. The company owner didn’t steal anything, he was trying to do his duty as a hard working guy out to drum up his business. One of his crew who pitched in on the other side of town did steal the mail from several boxes. It was a big mess and the landscaper’s rep never was the same.

In the end, he was personally cleared, but people don’t follow stories through until the end. As for his company, it is still buried under legal bills and defunct now.

The post office and the mailbox owner have rights to the mailbox. You want to enter someone’s mailbox, you are risking more than you might think. If anything is missing in that area, and you happen to be seen in mailboxes…well, good luck.

Just ask the local landscaper.

Thanks to everyone for the information.

I had a home in Las Vegas. My Father, who was quite elderly, wanted to change the ouside mailbox to an in-the-door mailbox. So, I made the change for him. Our postman told us that he could no longer deliver mail there since the old outside mailbox didn’t exist anymore. I complained to his supervisor at the post office and they told me that we couldn’t change the mailbox. If you have an outside mailbox, you must keep it and cannot change it. I had to get another outside box and attach it to the same place the old one existed.