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July 18, 2006 4:37 AM   Subscribe

Help me fight The Man: My mail carrier is leaving me notes telling me that he is going to stop delivering mail to me unless I start locking my mailbox every day. Can he?

I live in an apartment building in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For the first twenty-four years of my life, I lived in houses with unlocked, right-out-in-the-open mailboxes. I moved to this apartment just over two years ago, and the mailboxes each have small locks on them (they look like this). I’m not in the habit of locking it, nor do I really care to.

Recently, my postal carrier has started leaving me notes telling me that if I don’t start locking my mailbox, he will cease to deliver mail to me. He left me a formal USPS document saying that it could be done, so I don’t think he’s bullshitting me just to get me to do it. So here are my questions:

1. Can he do it, or is it an idle threat backed up by an official document?
2. Is the USPS allowed to discriminate like this based on where you live? (I wouldn’t be getting one of these if I lived in a house and had a mailbox that didn’t lock.)
3. Assuming he does cut me off, is there anything I can do besides start locking my mailbox?

Thanks. Any information or thoughts are appreciated!
posted by NotMyselfRightNow to Law & Government (33 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Mailboxes like that are generally filled en masse by the carrier unlocking the master lock and tipping the whole unit out towards the hallway. If your box is unlocked that means the door will open and your mail won't stay in the box, creating a mess, etc., etc..

Some of the units like that have a hallway behind them for the carrier to use. If your's doesn't, this is probably their motivation for the notes.
posted by jwells at 4:44 AM on July 18, 2006


i think his concern/reason for the threat is that if for some reason your mail starts going missing and consequently you complain, it eventually falls onto him and the fact that he delivers mail to a common-mailbox area mailbox that is knowingly left unlocked, would reflect poorly on him. so yes, i think he can do this. don't know for sure.

i don't see it as much as discrimination as when you have a common-mailbox area, there are many more prying eyes than say, a mailbox on your parents front porch, so the USPS' best interest is to prevent any sort of mail fraud/theft which is much more likely to happen in your situation than the parents porch scenario i mentioned.

i would just lock it. my mail is very important and private to me, not something i want to be compromised for any reason, nevermind a discrepancy over a lock.
posted by ibechase at 4:46 AM on July 18, 2006


Is there any particular reason for you NOT to lock your mailbox? Personally, I enjoy the extra bit of safety that means my neighbours can't grab my bank/credit card statements/offers. I don't trust those shifty senior citizens. Or is it just that you especially don't want to, now that The Man has told you you must?

1) I'm guessing he wouldn't go to the trouble of leaving the notice and the USPS document saying it's allowed, if he wasn't planning on doing it. So idle threat, probably not.

2) There might be some regulations saying that if the mailbox HAS a lock, they're not allowed to leave mail in it unless it's locked (possibly for liability, as it seems that most everything silly like this has a CYA reason behind it). I did a bit of googling but couldn't find anything specific about mailbox regulations (except to find out that, apparently they do exist).

3) Anything you can do to what end? Get your mail service started up again? Get him to put it in there without locking your mailbox? They might have some regulation that allows you to sign a release saying that yes, they can leave mail in your unlocked mailbox.
posted by antifuse at 4:52 AM on July 18, 2006


I believe that particular type of mailbox is filled by tilting or pulling it out at like a 45 degree angle towards him and he then proceeds to file all the mail for every individual box..By not locking your box he does his job and your mail ends up going straight through and falling to his feet..resulting him/her in having to bend over and pick up your mess.

So by not operating your mailbox as it was intended to work he can treat your mailbox as not functioning, not secure or just not up to snuff and can and should stop delivery until he is provided with an appropriate operational mailbox.

Just paly ball, stop busting his balls and lock the box.
posted by stavx at 5:02 AM on July 18, 2006


Not only what jwells and stavx said, but depending on the mailboxes, with your door open he might not even be able to tilt it forward to put anybody's mail in.
posted by FreezBoy at 5:18 AM on July 18, 2006


Follow-up to my earlier comment: US Code Title 39 governs the postal service. The whole thing is written so the service can make decisions in the public's best interest. Delaying the mail or otherwise inconveniencing them would be against the public's best interest (i.e. if everyone did it).

The one you are probably looking for is § 403, a-c. C is the non-discrimination bit so long as the rest of the title isn't compromised. You'll find that pesky efficiency leaning right above it in b1.

If they really felt angry with you, they could jump to Title 18, Crimes and Criminal Procedure, and prosecute you under section 1701 for retarding the passage of mail (to the other folks who use the other boxes, as well as the rest of the people on the route).
posted by jwells at 5:37 AM on July 18, 2006


Thread-hijacking: Coming from Britain where we all just have holes in our doors, this is all postively fascinating. So does the mailman have to carry a special key for every building he visits? Or is there a special 'master' key that only posty people are allowed to have? Who arranges it all?!
posted by chrismear at 5:49 AM on July 18, 2006


chrismear, IANAPW, but as I understand it, often for apartment buildings the USPS will install a small locked box on the outside of the building near the front door. This box contains the specific key(s) for the building, but the box itself is unlocked by a "special 'master' key that only posty people are allowed to have." So the carrier unlocks the box, gets the key, gets into the building, delivers the mail, then replaces the key in the box.
posted by staggernation at 6:25 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


If you want your mail you shouldn't mess with your carrier. End Of Story.
posted by shownomercy at 6:25 AM on July 18, 2006


You do realize by typing this message out, posting it on Ax Me, and then reading the replies -- you used up way more effort and thought than it would just take to lock the freaking mailbox in the first place? Is it really so hard?
posted by SpecialK at 6:29 AM on July 18, 2006


Chrismear, our mailman has a key to our building. I suspect it may be a master key for building with that type of lock, but yeah, the mailman has lots of keys. I live in NYC, so everyone has the common boxes. What do they do for apartments where you live?
posted by dame at 6:31 AM on July 18, 2006


you shouldn't mess with your carrier

Can't be stressed enough; there will come a time, believe me, when the carrier will have the opportunity to do something above and beyond the call of duty for you (forwarding important mail to your new address beyond the required date, for instance), and the carrier will be more likely to do that small favor for you if you haven't been pissing him or her off on a daily basis. It probably would've been smart for the carrier to explain exactly *why* you needed to lock your box, since you were unaware of the probable tilt-to-sort mechanism, but the bottom line is that you've been causing the carrier daily inconvenience.

The smart thing to do in this situation would be to start locking the mailbox on the same day you leave an apologetic note and a $5 gift certificate to a local coffee shop in an envelope for the carrier. Don't think about it. Just do it.
posted by mediareport at 6:39 AM on July 18, 2006


Just lock the mailbox. Sounds like the only real reason you refuse to do it is to fight "the man."

Or you could just let us know where you live so we can come steal your personal mail.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 6:40 AM on July 18, 2006


"When you control the mail, you control....information." - newman.

Lock your box.
posted by justgary at 6:45 AM on July 18, 2006


Hi Folks-

Thanks for all the comments. A few items:

1. "The Man" comment was a joke. Relax. I have no interest in making the life of my mail carrier (or anyone else for that matter) difficult.

2. For those of you who posted links to the actual law, Thank you. If we assume that it's based on secure delivery of the mail, then it's interesting to note that there is a common pile next to the mailboxes of anything that doesn't fit into your mailbox (large envelopes, Netflix, magazines, etc.).

3. While I can understand that the general rule might be in place so that the carrier can access the entirety of the mailboxes, I'm not sure it's the issue in this case. My mailbox closes and stays closed even without being locked. I don't think that it would open when tilted at 45*, but I also don't have any way of checking that.

4. chrismear, interesting that this is a geographic issue. How is mail delivered in apartment buildings in the UK?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:57 AM on July 18, 2006


If JWells' answer is correct, and it does sound correct, could you use a carabiner or other clip that would hold it closed without locking? Still pretty easy for you to undo.
posted by theora55 at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2006


I live in central Illinois, have the same style mailbox, and have seen the postman leave the same notes for one of my neighbors. In their case, the lock was actually broken, but he still said he'd have to stop delivering their mail.
posted by sbutler at 6:59 AM on July 18, 2006


If we assume that it's based on secure delivery of the mail, then it's interesting to note that there is a common pile next to the mailboxes of anything that doesn't fit into your mailbox

Seems reasonable, even so. There are all sorts of trade-offs that have to happen for mail to be delivered efficiently in buildings like yours. Asking you to lock what can be locked and leaving out what it's necessary to leave out is certainly preferable to forcing landlords to redo their mailboxes to accomodate odd-sized envelopes, or forcing you to pick up all odd-sized envelopes at the post office. Anyway, bottom line is you should be on good terms with your mail carrier for those moments when the carrier has a chance to do more than is required. Seriously. Don't treat carriers like servants; you'll regret it.
posted by mediareport at 7:22 AM on July 18, 2006


Doesn't sound right. Assuming you live in an apt., I'd speak w/the management.
posted by pallen123 at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2006


NotMyselfRightNow, I could be wrong, but I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that if you lock the mailbox (as requested) and ask nicely at the post office, they would leave all the big mail with your name on it there so you can securely pick it up. If that's what you want, that is. :-)

The post office can do all sorts of nice things for you if you ask nicely. When we managed to get an internet scam artist in trouble for stealing goods with stolen credit card numbers, he sent us package after package purchased with other stolen numbers for us to bug the people defrauded about (we threw away the packages from countries that didn't have any english speaking people, sorry Russian Cigarette guys!) Eventually, we went to the post office and asked that all mail/packages with the (heh... stupid scammer) misspelled name on them to be returned to sender. They didn't *have* to do that, but it was awfully nice of them.
posted by shepd at 7:59 AM on July 18, 2006


Don't bother speaking with the apartment management. They are essentially powerless WRT USPS.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:12 AM on July 18, 2006


4. chrismear, interesting that this is a geographic issue. How is mail delivered in apartment buildings in the UK?

Well, I'm not chrismear, but anyway ...

It depends on the individual buildings. There are buildings where there's a mailbox in the front hallway, with a slot for each individual flat (generally, they're new(er) buildings). In some, there's no mailbox, and the postman buzzes one of the flats to be let in, identifies himself, and then sticks the post through the relevant letterbox on the front door of the flat.

In others (like mine, where the post is delivered by a particularly recalcitrant and grumpy bastard of a postman) there's a letterbox on the front door of the building, and the postie just shoves it through that, leaving the four flats inside to sort it amongst themselves. We've asked – more than once – that he buzz one of the flats, come in and stick things through each of our flat door letterboxes, because where the post sits at the moment is visible from the street, and this building has been burgled three times in the past two years, and broken into (though nothing stolen) twice already this year. But he can't be arsed, so that's that.
posted by Len at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2006



Follow-up to my earlier comment: US Code Title 39 governs the postal service. The whole thing is written so the service can make decisions in the public's best interest. Delaying the mail or otherwise inconveniencing them would be against the public's best interest (i.e. if everyone did it).


Maybe that's why they ignore any and all of my hold requests. It's not in the public interest to actually process my mail holds.
posted by smallerdemon at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2006


chrismear, interesting that this is a geographic issue. How is mail delivered in apartment buildings in the UK?

In all the places I've seen, the mail boxes or front doors just have slots in them. You might have a personal key to unlock the box to get your mail out, but no key is necessary to put mail into the box -- you just slide it in the slot.
posted by chrismear at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2006


Do you really think he'd ask you to do it just to irritate you? His job is hard enough, and you're making it harder. That's why he asked. If this is a big deal for you, just resign yourself to the fact that you won't be getting any mail any longer. I don't see the big deal here.
posted by luriete at 10:04 AM on July 18, 2006


Our apt. mailbox had a broken lock, so I JBweld-ed a simple clasp and lock on it.
posted by craniac at 10:21 AM on July 18, 2006


Yet another reason I gave up and got a mailbox at a locally owned postal box place. All of my mail, packages, etc go there. No problems with it so far. (UPS Store = problems. Local place = all good.)

And I can go on a 2 day vacation without having to come home to a note saying "box full - pick up mail at post office." My tiny apartment mailbox just gets filled with endless piles of unwanted junk mail anyway.
posted by drstein at 10:33 AM on July 18, 2006


Heelllloooo Newwman!

just lock the damn box. why do you want to keep it unlocked?

In India, the postman just walks up to yr apartment and slips it through a one inch slot made in the door specifically for mails. (and before anyone asks, that slot is towards the bottom of the door and it's covered by spring loaded cover from the inside...so u can't really snoop in there - nobody does). If this slot is not there, he just slids it under the door. If it's a big bundle or package he will ring the bell and hand it over to you personally.
posted by forwebsites at 10:35 AM on July 18, 2006


No really, vertical mailboxes like the one you pictured are loaded by tilting the inner chamber forward.

See picture here.

As indicated in the above pic, if the door to an individual box is not secured any mail inserted into that box will fall out onto the mailman's feet - this is why he wants you to lock it.
posted by peppermint22 at 12:19 PM on July 18, 2006


For what little it's worth, drstein, most of the UPS Store locations are likely locally owned as well. They're franchises and according to Entrepreneur magazine not a single one is company owned.
posted by phearlez at 12:37 PM on July 18, 2006


Do you really think he'd ask you to do it just to irritate you?

Based on my horrible experiences with the Cambridge-area USPS, I'd say this is entirely possible. You may even have the same obnoxious mail carrier that I did. I had previously lived in places where your name was not required to be on the box; after several days of no mail, I called the station and determined that policy is determined at a local level, so they can essentially set whatever preconditions for delivery that they wish.

Start locking your box.
posted by amber_dale at 5:35 PM on July 18, 2006


I don't think that it would open when tilted at 45*, but I also don't have any way of checking that.

Well, you could ask your mailman. I asked mine at work today about this, and he said your unlocked box almost certainly doesn't stay shut when it's tilted open. (I'd add that all it would take is one instance of the mail falling on the floor to start being annoying.) This mailman also said you should stop being lazy.
posted by mediareport at 8:36 PM on July 18, 2006


(he was laughing when he said that last part; he's a great guy)
posted by mediareport at 8:37 PM on July 18, 2006


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