YANAMC, YANMMC, but maybe you can answer this anyway
April 5, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Why would a letter come back "not deliverable as addressed" when the address is correct?

I got a letter returned today that I mailed a couple of weeks ago, and it has a yellow USPS sticker reading "return to sender, not deliverable as addressed, unable to forward." The address was correct; I checked with the intended recipient today, just in case he'd moved or something. He lives at a house and has lived there for many years. The postage was correct. The handwriting is reasonably easy to read and no part of the address is ambiguous. I'm going to ask the post office when they're open, but since I'm unlikely to find out the answer, I'd like to hear your theories.
posted by thetortoise to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you enter the address on USPS.com's "find a zip code" feature, what does it say? Does it recognize the address?
posted by primethyme at 4:18 PM on April 5, 2013

Dunno, but this just happened to me. To add insult to injury, the letter was addressed to an official USPS PO box, meaning the "undeliverable" address was an actual post office.

I took it back to my post office and asked them to resend it. The second try worked fine.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:19 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've had this happen once or twice, and culprit seems to be misdelivery, followed by the wrong recipient failing to realize the error, returning it to the carrier, who also failed to notice the error. ZIP+4 seems to cut down on this.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:21 PM on April 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've had this happen a couple of times when the USPS decided, for reasons unbeknownst to me, that my university address did not exist. (Me: "My job is a hallucination?") In both cases, it was a computer glitch.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:30 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I work in a fundraising office, working with foundations and corporations. This happens all the time. We double check, find out the address is correct, and resend. No idea why it happens. In fact, our database tracks returned mail for all donors, and an address isn't marked as undeliverable until three pieces of mail are returned. So this is a known thing that happens.
posted by kimdog at 4:36 PM on April 5, 2013

Yeah, I can't tell you why it happens, but it happened to me many times when I worked in shipping. In fact, once I sent four packages, and three came back as "not deliverable" with one having a handwritten note on the tag that the address didn't exist.

The fourth was a confirmed delivery.

Just re-sending helped sometimes, but not always. I asked USPS many, many times about this and got answers varying between "user error", "carrier error", and "computer error."
posted by sm1tten at 4:46 PM on April 5, 2013

This has happened to me before and it's because the post office screwed up. The tough thing was the literal argument I got into with the lone post office worker who wanted to refuse to remail it. I prevailed and it got where it needed to go. (His coworkers the following week agreed he was something of an outlier.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:03 PM on April 5, 2013

The last time this happened to me it was because the person to whom the letter was addressed had a completely full mailbox and the mail carrier felt the best solution was to send the letter I'd sent back to me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:13 PM on April 5, 2013

USPS is made of people. People make mistakes.
posted by COD at 7:19 PM on April 5, 2013

Response by poster: I checked the zip code like primethyme suggested and USPS does recognize it, though I did leave off the +4 digits on the envelope. Sounds like carrier or computer error is most likely, unless there was a full mailbox or the scenario GenjiandProust described. I'm kind of comforted that it might well go through the second time. Thanks!
posted by thetortoise at 8:35 PM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

This happens when people send us mail the week after we have lodged a complaint about our mail carrier. Coincidence? I wonder.
posted by Addlepated at 12:04 PM on April 6, 2013

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