USPS Letter Pickup - Urban vs Suburban
September 25, 2017 2:53 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I've lived in a big city (my experience has been in New York and Chicago), the USPS has refused to pick up stamped letters from the mailbox in my apartment building lobby, so I have to carry them to a blue collection box. Whenever I've lived in a smaller city, the mail carrier has happily picked up my letters. What is up with that?

The mail carrier will literally fill up my mailbox with mail while ignoring the stamped letter I've left there. Is it an official policy of the USPS to provide this service only to non-urban customers, and if so, can anyone point me to this policy? If it's not an official policy, what's behind this practice?
posted by enn to Law & Government (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wonder whether it has to do with detached vs. attached mailboxes or the municipality or neighborhood one is in. Anecdotally, in the house in the suburbs where I grew up, we had a freestanding mailbox by the street, and if you put the little flag up, outgoing mail would get picked up. I now live in a house in a different suburb, with a mailbox attached to the house (with no flag), and when I tried to put mail in the mailbox to be picked up, it didn't get picked up.

Sorry, this is just an anecdote, not official data. I'll be curious to see whether there's an official line on this!
posted by limeonaire at 3:01 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in a city, albeit in a single family home. My mail carrier picks up outgoing stamped mail from my house.
posted by latkes at 3:01 PM on September 25, 2017

My lobby has an outgoing mail slot (maybe half an inch wide) separate from my individual mailbox. I think that's typical here in the Bay Area.
posted by crazy with stars at 3:08 PM on September 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

I also have always had outgoing mailbox slots on locked box type. (our current and past apartment mail stations, in dorms, etc.) Otherwise there's a flag on a standalone mailbox, but on the attached mailboxes I've just seen an outgoing slot, since the carrier doesn't know you have something outgoing or you just didn't pick up your mail.

Have you possibly missed the slot? Sometimes they can seem pretty camouflaged as they're sometimes a converted mailbox.

If you don't have one, or one nearby then you can do free mail pickup during mail delivery times. You can schedule it online. I just leave my outgoing packages outside my door and I'm on the 3rd floor of an apartment that has an outdoor box.

(I have an outgoing mail slot that fits up to my 9" wide flat art mailers. But I've had some boxes, etc that the mail carrier will grab with scheduled pickup.)
posted by Crystalinne at 3:20 PM on September 25, 2017

In a multi unit dwelling, residents will leave misdelivered mail in the same area you are probably leaving your outgoing mail. The postal worker can't or won't sort through it to see what is outgoing vs. misdelivered. This is why most places have a dedicated outgoing slot.
posted by soelo at 3:21 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

We live in a 6-flat in Chicago. Until we designated a basket for "outgoing USPS mail", our carrier did not pick up out-going stamped mail. I forget the ins and outs of the process the board went through to set this up, but, basically, in a multi-unit building with a mail room/row of mail boxes sort of situation, there must be a designated out-going mail place (a slot, a box, a basket, a bin) before the carrier will pick up out-going mail.

The same was true in the business office I worked in before now.
posted by crush at 3:35 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've never had this problem while living in a multiunit building. I think the trick is that I would either stick the outgoing in the side of the mailbox so it was quite flagrant, or if not that, put it under a small chocolate bar or cold seltzer in my mailbox, again sticking out quite conspicuously.
Yes, I realize that it is blatant bribery, but I'm not above that.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 3:42 PM on September 25, 2017

I live in a 100 year old neighborhood of a city of 250K. I have a mailbox attached to the front of my house, and in my neighborhood the postal folks walk up onto each front porch to deliver mail. As far as I know, they are supposed to handle outgoing and incoming mail both. When I place outgoing mail inside the box, it's often missed. But if I clip it on front of the box with the uncanceled stamp showing, so it can be seen clearly from the sidewalk, it has ALWAYS been picked up.

Consider that outgoing mail is actually pretty unusual today. Are you sure it's clearly visible?

After fifty empty boxes in a row I'd stop checking so carefully too, especially if I have to stick my hand in each box and feel around. If I had no mail for a house and I didn't see any obvious outgoing mail, I'd prefer to skip going up their front steps at all!
posted by fritley at 4:22 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I lived in an apartment where the boxes were in the vestibule, they would only take outgoing mail if you made it obvious by clipping it to the outside of the box. Since those boxes have no flags, they would not assume that anything inside the box was outgoing mail.
posted by jkent at 4:33 PM on September 25, 2017

I'm pretty sure when I've lived in a multi-unit building, there's always been a separate place to put outgoing mail, and as far as I know, it was always picked up. (I am drawing a blank on how I got my mail in a couple places, though.)

I'm in a house in a suburban neighborhood now, and I usually put outgoing mail in a public box on the street, but when I have put it in my box with the flag up, it's gotten picked up.

They are supposed to pick up outgoing mail, according to the Collection on Letter Routes section in this carrier duties handbook, and there aren't different rules for urban vs. rural vs. suburban.

Like so:

132 Collection on Letter Routes
132.1 Collection from Customers
132.11 Accept letters handed to you by customers for mailing, providing that postage
is affixed. Go to the porch or door to receive this mail from the customer.
132.12 Collect prepaid letters placed next to, in, or on private mail receptacles when
delivery is being made at that point.
132.13 Accept for mailing prepaid small articles; but you may refuse to accept
articles when to do so would seriously interfere with your scheduled
deliveries or collections.
132.14 Do not accept money for payment of postage except postage due mail, with
due stamps or statement attached.
132.15 Motorized carriers: collect from curbside boxes (on your route) letters with
postage affixed if the signal flag is raised, even though there is no mail for
delivery to that box.
132.2 Collection from Boxes and Racks
132.21 Collect mail from designated street letterboxes, cooperative mailing racks,
and mail chute receiving boxes. Avoid standing in the street when loading or
emptying these boxes.
132.22 Collect mailable matter placed on top of or adjacent to a collection box.
Report to your supervisor the name of the customer who left this mail so that
action may be taken to preclude recurrence.
132.23 Give preference to First-Class Mail when the contents of a collection box are
more than you can carry. Report the incident to your manager.
132.24 Report to manager any person who tampers with or deliberately damages
mailboxes or takes mail from them without authority

However, one of my mail carriers comes over sometimes and complains about his work, and it's kind of a common thing for people's mailboxes to be nasty, and for people not to pick up their mail regularly, so you can't easily see what's outgoing as opposed to yesterday's or last week's incoming. He says some are just like papier mache in there because nobody ever gets the incoming mail, and then it gets wet, then dries, then repeats the cycle until there's no room left and they cut off service; and sometimes it's just sort of nasty and scary to stick your hand in someone's dark, dirty mailbox where there could be wasps and spiders. So, at least as I understand it, carriers don't like picking up outgoing mail from individual (thus individually maintained) boxes, for good reasons sometimes, so they normally won't get in trouble for not doing it.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:43 PM on September 25, 2017 [4 favorites]

My building has an outgoing slot and a regular mailman who won't pick up outgoing mail or redelivery slips from the tenants' boxes.
posted by brujita at 5:00 PM on September 25, 2017

Nthing that every place I've lived with a shared mailbox, there's a specific slot for outgoing mail that the letter carrier will pick up from, and they will never do anything more than deliver mail to my personal mailbox. I've never had a shared mailbox that didn't have an outgoing mail slot though.
posted by Aleyn at 5:12 PM on September 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I live in a major city and the mail carrier has always been happy to take mail from me if I happen to catch them. My building doesn’t have a specific place for outgoing mail.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 5:41 PM on September 25, 2017

Wait, are you leaving the outgoing mail *in* your own mailbox? Or in a common bin/box/area where everyone leaves their outgoing mail?

I do the latter in San Francisco, and I have no problem with them picking up my mail. We have one of those exterior in-wall multi-unit boxes, and I just wedge my outgoing mail under the corner between the mailbox and the wall. I used to live in a building that had the mailboxes in the lobby, and although I can't remember where we put our outgoing mail, it definitely got picked up.

If you're doing the former, I think that's your problem.
posted by radioamy at 5:41 PM on September 25, 2017

I'm curious about this too. I live in an apartment building in NYC, and USPS won't take outgoing envelopes I leave with the doorperson. Scheduled USPS package pickups that I leave with the doorperson are fine.
posted by lalex at 6:12 PM on September 25, 2017

I've lived in multi-resident buildings for years. I put my outgoing mail in the "outgoing mail" slot and the mail carrier picks it up. If I were to leave my outgoing mail in my own (understood to be incoming-only) mailbox it wouldn't get picked up.

Maybe you're extrapolating from suburban delivery, where outgoing mail gets put in the same box as incoming mail, but the flag gets raised? Most multi-unit building mailboxes have no flags or anything like them. It's not reasonable to expect the mail carrier to look into the mail slot and determine "this is new and I should take it away to deliver it elsewhere" vs "they haven't bothered to pick up their mail since yesterday".
posted by Lexica at 6:39 PM on September 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I use a binder clip to attach outgoing or misdelivered mail to the front of our mailbox, because our box doesn't have a flag and our letter carriers don't look inside at all when they drop mail in. They do take anything clipped to the front though.
posted by fedward at 8:51 PM on September 25, 2017 [3 favorites]

in New York ... the USPS has refused to pick up stamped letters from the mailbox in my apartment building lobby

What -- in New York City, fabled land of hotels and apartment buildings with mail chutes?
posted by Rash at 9:17 PM on September 25, 2017

I live in NYC and always use the blue box on the street (across 4 different apartments/neighborhoods). I've never had an outgoing mail slot in my building, and haven't heard of anyone here leaving outgoing mail in their own mailbox. There's been a blue box between my apartment and whatever train I needed, so it's never really been an issue.
posted by melissasaurus at 4:24 AM on September 26, 2017

Only thing I could think of: the mailman (mail person) doesn't want the added weight of an entire block's worth of outgoing mail, in addition to all the incoming mail he/she is carrying.
posted by kuanes at 4:33 AM on September 26, 2017

The mail carrier will literally fill up my mailbox with mail while ignoring the stamped letter I've left there.

Do you have a mailbox like this or some other similar multibox situation?

Those don't open for the mail carrier like they open for you. They open all at once and the carrier drops mail into each cubby from the top. She'd have to peek over the top of the box to see if there's anything in there, reach in with an empty hand, pull out the piece of mail in there, inspect it and make sure it's supposed to leave and not just your own mail you didn't take out of the box yesterday, and put it in her satchel before putting the new mail in. This adds several extra steps to a job that's already pretty labor intensive, and multiply that by however many hundreds of people are on your route--that's a LOT of extra time and work for a relatively small number of actual pieces of outgoing mail. And there's probably a blue box within a quarter mile of you.

In the same way that taking public transit is more efficient for serving city populations than everyone driving their own car, participating in the group infrastructure for mail, while individually annoying because you may need to walk a couple blocks, makes things better for all of us because fewer people can get mail to more people faster.
posted by phunniemee at 7:33 AM on September 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

My building has mailboxes like phunniemee describes, and no outgoing mail slot or basket. Occasionally I see other residents stick outgoing mail in the space between their box and the next person's, but our carrier is kind of terrible so I put mine in the blue box a block away. My parents live in a detached house with a mailbox affixed next to the front door, and they clip outgoing mail to a clothespin on the front of it.
posted by AFABulous at 6:29 PM on September 26, 2017

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