Help me get my mail!
January 29, 2008 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Moronfilter: I've lost my mail key and can't replace it. Is there any way to get my mail?

I live in an apartment, and we have the usual wall of mailboxes on the ground floor. About a month ago, due to circumstances too complicated to explain, I lost my mail key. I spoke to the super about it, and he said that he doesn't have a spare mail key and that they'll have to change the lock on the mailbox. He indicated that this would be very expensive, and I can't afford to pay for it right now. I caught the mailman about three weeks ago and convinced him to give me my mail, but I haven't been able to get my mail since then. I pay all my bills electronically, so it's not like they're going to turn off my electricity, but at some point I'm going to need to get my W2 and various other important documents. Plus, for all I know there's a letter saying that I've won the lottery or am being audited by the IRS. I need to get my mail. Are there any options to do this, other than to wait and ambush the mailman on a semi-regular basis?

Anonymous because a couple of people in real life know my metafilter handle, and I would be rather humiliated to have them know I haven't checked my mail in three weeks!
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (17 answers total)
Do you have a job? You could fill out a change of address form and get all your mail delivered to your workplace, or someplace else (a friend's place, a neighbor's). Alternately you could get a PO box and forward your mail there, but those cost money. Did you ask the super how much is "very expensive"? It seems to me that this is the sort of thing that should be in the lease someplace if it costs a ton to get a new key made. It may be less expensive than you think. Have you tried appealing to the property manager?
posted by jessamyn at 10:09 PM on January 29, 2008

This happened to me. You can leave a note for the mail person, and they might do it for a while, but eventually you'll have to replace the lock. It's not *that* expensive.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:09 PM on January 29, 2008

Also you can forward your mail temporarily and just put an end date on the form. This way if you wanted to make sure you got your W-2s you could foward your mail for a few weeks or so and have it automagically unforward. Otherwise a forwarding expires in six months but you can keep redoing it for years.
posted by jessamyn at 10:18 PM on January 29, 2008

You can have your local post office hold your mail for up to 30 days at a time if you're in the US. That might buy you some time.
posted by item at 10:27 PM on January 29, 2008

I've replaced these, and it's a piece of cake and cheap, unless you have some weird kind of box or lock. A replacement lock for most mailboxes is less than ten dollars. Take a good look at the one that's there now, figure out which side it needs to latch (some are "handed") and buy one at a hardware store, Home Depot, lock shop, or that one from Amazon. When the mailman comes, have him open your box, replace lock. The ones I've done didn't even need tools, you just unscrew the nut.
posted by sageleaf at 10:29 PM on January 29, 2008

I replaced our mailbox lock for $10 by going to a lock store.
Depending on your type of box you may be able to force the door open and then replace the lock yourself.

Our box has a thin metal door and the lock was held in by 4 bendable flanges. The key is a thin piece of metal, almost like a diary key. If yours is more like a lock key, you may need to get a locksmith involved, and even then I can't imagine it being more than $100.

If you only had 1 key and there was no spare, I'd consider that a shared problem for the landlord.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:31 PM on January 29, 2008

Addendum: You unscrew the nut from the back, in case that isn't obvious. I can't remember if I've ever had to do it without the original key, but it will take about three seconds to find that out. Loosen screw, see if latch falls off enough.
posted by sageleaf at 10:37 PM on January 29, 2008

I forgot to hold my mail when I left for 2 weeks over winter break, and once the mailman couldn't fit any more mail in the box, he took it all back to the post office and they held it as if I had filled out the form item linked to. When I got back, the only thing in my mailbox was a note telling me when and where I could pick it all up. I showed my ID, signed a piece of paper, promised to fill out the hold form in advance next time, and took home two weeks of mail.

I can't guarantee your mailman works like mine, but if so (and what else can he do once your box is out of space?), you could wait a few weeks and then go down to the post office. I'd say "pretend you went on vacation," but they're not going to ask and they're not going to care.
posted by Partial Law at 10:40 PM on January 29, 2008

You could just pick the lock. I haven't seen a mailbox lock that even aspired to be high security. Many of them are simple ward keys.
posted by Mitheral at 11:28 PM on January 29, 2008

As far as replacing your lock goes, I'd be careful that this isn't prohibited (by your lease, e.g.). My lease doesn't allow for any lock replacement (including bathroom, interior, etc.) without express written consent from the landlord, so. Consult beforehand.
posted by Phire at 2:20 AM on January 30, 2008

Your landlord is lazy. Replacing a lock is quick and easy. There are some regulations when it comes to the mail, but replacing the lock shouldn't be a huge deal. They are probably saying it will cost a lot as a nuisance fee. In their mind, you lost the key, you were an idiot, therefore your idiocy should not have to cost them a nickel in manpower and they are going to charge you for the lock plus a ridiculous amount for the labor. The thing is, they are supposed to have a key to your box, too. If they maintained their house properly, they would have that spare key and could make you a duplicate for a couple of bucks. Ask them again to duplicate their key--my sense is that they didn't even bother to check to see if they actually had a working key or not.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:38 AM on January 30, 2008

i would not replace the lock yourself as it is almost certainly a violation of your lease. you could very easily pry the thing open with a letter opener and just leave it always unlocked (this is what many of the quality folks that live in my building have done). i don't advise this, but it is an option... it's your landlord's job to replace it and even with the incredible mark up he'll do, it really shouldn't be more than $50.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:44 AM on January 30, 2008

I replaced our mailbox lock for $10 by going to a lock store.
Depending on your type of box you may be able to force the door open and then replace the lock yourself.

I manage an apartment building and I do this all the time--you wait for the mail man and, after explaining what you want to do and asking his permission, when he opens the entire box, you reach in and pull off the upside down U-shaped spring clasp holding the lock in place. You may have to get him to p[ull the mial out first.

It helps to get on of those paint can openers that sort of look like an old school bottle cap opener: the metal ones with the triangular handle with a straight bar that ends in a slight hook. But I have used small screwdrivers and needlenose pliers to the same effect in a pinch. You can then rotate the lock from the inside and open the door, pull the lock out of the hole in the door, insert the new lock and push down the spring clip and voila, you are back in business.

This is how I have done it in every building in which I have lived. You may have some sort of fancy set up but I rather doubt it. Some buildings charge an arm and a leg for changing the lock and they have every right to do so. They are paying the hourly for the employee to go to the store and buy the lock and then put it in. That could add up to over an hour in travel time alone and that super could getting around $15 to $20 an hour. Plus owners tend make losing a key a prohibitive affair just to make people mor ecareful with their keys. Me, I'm happy to do it if they get the lock for no charge. It only takes a minute to change the lock.
posted by y2karl at 9:19 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I lost my mail key, well, all three of them, actually, I just went to the post office, paid $15, and they changed the lock. I had to go back two days later and pick up the new keys.
posted by Ruki at 9:48 AM on January 30, 2008

Get a PO box and submit one of those mail forwarding cards to have your mail sent to it. PO boxes should run about $30 for 6 months.
posted by 517 at 9:49 AM on January 30, 2008

I now see jessamyn beat me to it.
posted by 517 at 9:57 AM on January 30, 2008

PS. If wouldn't hurt to look at some replacement locks before removing the old one. It will give you a better idea of what the spring clasp looks like and what you will have to be pulling up on to get the old lockout.

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posted by y2karl at 9:57 AM on January 30, 2008

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