How can I prove that someone owns a PO box?
December 30, 2004 7:37 AM   Subscribe

How can I prove that someone owns a PO box?

My ex-landlord says I never sent a move-out letter, and am thus not entitled to get my deposit back. I, of course, did send the letter, registered and return-receipted, to her PO box, but it came back unclaimed. She says I sent the letter to the wrong address, but I think she deliberately avoided claiming it. The Post Office is no help, citing privacy rules.

What I’d like to do is send something else to her PO box, something that she’ll want to claim. Then I’ll get the notice that she picked up the item. I’m thinking something like sending a Crate & Barrel package, or maybe having a friend do so. But I need proof that she picked it up, a signature, preferably.

And, of course, this all needs to be done legally and non-fraudulently. Any ideas?
posted by MrMoonPie to Grab Bag (26 answers total)
Cross out Ed McMahon's name and phone number, replace them with your's, readdress the letter to her and wait. When the sweet call comes "Gotcha!"
posted by airguitar at 7:41 AM on December 30, 2004

Tell her you're going to Small Claims Court about it. The judge can get that information from the Post Office in the course of adjudicating the claim. Remind her that if you go to Small Claims Court, she will not only be responsible for the deposit but for the interest on it and the court costs as well.

My guess is that she will pay up.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2004

you could just go the creepy route and stalk the po box, taking pictures when she opens it.
posted by poipill at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2004

Well, by what manner did she give you this PO Box address? Is that address on your lease, or in any other form of writing? It's pretty cut and dry if she provided you with this address.

Also -- me = not a lawyer -- I don't think a "move-out letter" is a legal responsibility on the part of the tenant to get their deposit back. Did you take advantage of a last-month's-rent deposit for your final month there? Anyway, leases I've had don't require written notice for termination. Can you throw us a couple more details for when the AskMe lawyers roll into work later today?

And, as Sidhedevil points out, landlords are generally terrified of court because of what remains of tenants rights; undoubtedly she'd lose, so most probably she'd pay. But, you know: kiss that landlord's reference goodbye.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:50 AM on December 30, 2004

If you have the receipt for the registered mail (and now the original letter) couldn't that prove that you tried in good faith to send the letter, even if the address was wrong? It might be a good idea to try contacting the local agency that handles landlord/tenant complaints, because it really sounds you landlord is trying to screw you out of the deposit, and you might have some legal standing for getting it back.
posted by drezdn at 7:52 AM on December 30, 2004

Response by poster: Been there, done that, all. Filed the case (and got slapped with a countersuit), went through mandated mediation, am now awaiting the trial (in three weeks).

Yes, the written notice is required by my lease, and by DC tenant law. I have not only the receipt for mailing the move-out letter, but also the returned letter, which I've left un-opened. I paid my last month's rent (and all other months', too).

I've spoken to several knowledgable folks about the specifics of the legal case, and I'm pretty well assured I'll win, not only on the basis of the letter, but on several other points. Proving that she owns the box would just be icing on the cake. I don't think I need to prove it to win my case, but it'd be great if I were able to.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:00 AM on December 30, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and she told me the address over the phone, so it's not in writing.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:01 AM on December 30, 2004

Ah. In that case, mock up a "sweepstakes" letter and send it to her by certified mail, return receipt requested. She'll sign.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:02 AM on December 30, 2004

"I mailed you the letter" "No you didn't." "Yes I did, it's right here, unclaimed. You refused it." "No I didn't. Where did you send it to?" "P.O Box 58." "That's not my P.O. Box." "Which one is?" "It's too late now, I'm not telling you." "I'll see you in court!"
posted by airguitar at 8:07 AM on December 30, 2004

There is(or was) a way to send mail "forwarding address requested" or "address correction requested". If the Post Office corrects the address, the sender gets a card with the info, and must pay for the card/info. "Unclaimed" sounds more like unharvested PO box mail.

There is generally a tenant's rights advocate at your community's Legal Aid Office. They'll be in the info section of the phone book. They're good at strategy. By all means, go to Small Claims Court. Small Claims Court is usually based on common sense and fairness.
posted by theora55 at 8:56 AM on December 30, 2004

There are three possibilities here: A) MrMoonPie addressed the letter to the wrong mailbox; B) MrMoonPie addressed the letter to the correct mailbox, but it somehow was not delivered correctly (this has happened to me before, from both sides); C) MrMoonPie addressed the letter to the correct mailbox, the landlady saw that it was from him, and she refused to accept it (and/or tossed it back into the mail with a "Return to Sender" on it).

If MrMoonPie can get a Certified Return Receipt showing that the landlady accepted another piece of mail sent to that mailbox, he's ruled out A). It's probably a useful exercise.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:01 AM on December 30, 2004

If you get that PO Box verified you can make a strong case to the judge.

You prove it's their PO Box. Then you can easily prove they purposely refused mail in an attempt to defraud you.

Cut and dried. You might even squeeze out punitive damages if you can show she's basically stealing the money from you, and that the dispute was caused by her attempt to defraud.

It'd be worth sending to the PO Box a cheque for $10 to them as "lottery winnings" or something like that and having the bank trace the account it was cashed to. Not that the fact it's got their name on the cheque isn't proof enough anyways, should it be cashed.

Two things to consider:

If you want to get the cheque back in case you are wrong and the PO Box really isn't hers, you should have a PO Box yourself that can take the mail back so you don't need to give a name.

Also, the cheque should be from someone else. Give a friend $10 for a cheque written to that person's name.
posted by shepd at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2004

instead of 'lottery winnings' put 'refund for overcharge' and make it out for something like $10.37, that's more likely to get cashed, and les likely to be binned as junk mail.
posted by leotrotsky at 9:58 AM on December 30, 2004

You don't need to have a cashed check as evidence--her signature on a Certified Return Receipt for the mail itself will suffice.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:14 AM on December 30, 2004

What about an old box? Fill it with newspaper, and for $.50 you can get a delivery certification on it, including signature - which should be sufficient to prove its her - and most people won't think twice about signing for a package.

I'd be careful about it though, especially since you are going to be in court in 3 weeks; you don't want to commit mail fraud in the process of trying to win some other case.
posted by ChasFile at 10:25 AM on December 30, 2004

ChasFile has a point about mail fraud. Beware. Have you considered the straightforward approach? You're entitled to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to her post office branch. She filled out an application card to get the PO Box. Even if some of the information on it is deemed private, you should be allowed to have a redacted copy--which could still have enough visible info to be useful. Also request any records of mail being returned/refused from that box. I've no idea whether the USPS tracks that stuff, but it can't hurt to ask. Maybe you can get proof that she not only owns the box but deliberately refused that letter.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:58 AM on December 30, 2004

If you write "Prize Inside!" on the outside of an envelope, and include an actual prize inside (a dollar, perhaps?), you are not committing mail fraud.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:08 AM on December 30, 2004

Does she own other properties that you know of? If she does, and you know any of her other tenants, have them send something to her - something like, say, a rent check - cerified/return receipt. Or perhaps you could just talk to other tenants to find out if they know of this PO Box as well.

In fact, if you know anyone else that might be able to verify the PO Box, it might be useful.

Good luck. Landlord/tenant disputes are icky.
posted by googly at 11:11 AM on December 30, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, all! I very much want to avoid any accusations of fraud, as the landlady is a litigious sort.

FOIA request has been mailed. But the linked page includes some exceptions, and I think this may be one. We'll see.

I also just picked up a few blank return-receipt forms. I see that the return address is entered on the back of the form, on the side that is pasted to the envelope, so the recipient can't see the return address until the card is removed from the envelope (by the postal clerk, I'd guess). So if I don't put a return address on the envelope, this might work, huh? Is it required to have a return address on the envelope itself?
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:44 AM on December 30, 2004

Possibility D) The landlord deliberately gave you an incorrect address.
posted by sad_otter at 12:12 PM on December 30, 2004

No. A return address on the envelope is not required.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:21 PM on December 30, 2004

FWIW: Everytime I sign for a package, I never sign my real name. I do it because it makes me laugh, but I've never EVER been called on it.

So, the lanlord could sign for a bogus package, and you still would have no proof.
posted by ColdChef at 12:31 PM on December 30, 2004

Maybe, ColdChef. But it's worth investing $1 or so in case she does sign her real name.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:44 PM on December 30, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks, all! The court date is January 18, so I'll post an update here after that.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:52 PM on December 30, 2004

Reread your lease. I once went thru a big round of BS with my rental management company 'cause they thought the lease said that we needed to give notice we were not renewing the lease. It was crap, I read the lease and it said just the opposite, that if I didn't send a letter it would automatically be terminated. They gave in after a few weeks when they realized I knew more about their business then they did.
posted by pwb503 at 1:36 PM on December 31, 2004

Response by poster: Well, the court date was today. After we got there and waited an hour, it turned out the defendants filed for a re-schedule. So we wait another month.

I did send a certified mail, return-receipt, no-visible-return-address letter to the ex-landlady, and filed a FOIA request. I've gotten replies for neither. Turns out that all this wasn't needed. We contacted a few ex-residents, and one had a letter sent to him by the landlady. The letterhead return address has the aforementioned PO Box. We now have that letter.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:28 PM on January 18, 2005

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