Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PSA: It's illegal to put unstamped mail in mailboxes

Yesterday, I was hanging out on one of my favorite messageboards and someone started a thread about putting unstamped mail in mailboxes.  This person said they had no idea that it was illegal to leave things like wedding invitations, Christmas cards, or personal notes in peoples' boxes without sending them through the U.S. mail system.  A lot of people seemed to think that the law was stupid and made no sense.  After all, most people purchase their own mailboxes and place them on private property; however, even though the box belongs to the homeowner, the area inside the box is the US Postal Service's domain.  And it is indeed an offense to open someone's mailbox and leave anything in it that hasn't gone through the postal system.

This is what the law says:

3.1.3 Use for Mail
Except under 3.2.11, Newspaper Receptacle, the receptacles described in 3.1.1 may be used only for matter bearing postage. Other than as permitted by 3.2.10, Delivery of Unstamped Newspapers, or 3.2.11, no part of a mail receptacle may be used to deliver any matter not bearing postage, including items or matter placed upon, supported by, attached to, hung from, or inserted into a mail receptacle. Any mailable matter not bearing postage and found as described above is subject to the same postage as would be paid if it were carried by mail. [D041.1.3]

While most of the time, people can and do get away with not stamping mail, violating the law can lead to a stiff fine and/or the unstamped mail being returned to the sender with postage due.

Oddly enough, yesterday I actually witnessed someone putting unstamped mail in the bank of mailboxes near our house.  I had my two dogs with me and they were freaking out because they always do when strangers are around.  I was struggling to walk them and had just dodged a car that was driving along our dirt lane.  I had almost reached the mailbox and some woman pulled up in a minivan.  She had a little girl with her.  The girl got out of the car and put stuff in one of the mailboxes.  I waited patiently for her to finish, not knowing if she was picking up mail for someone.  She got back in the minivan.  I glanced at her mom, who seemed to think my dogs' barking and carrying on was hysterically funny.

So then mom and daughter drive down the road.  I was hoping that was the last of them so I could pick up my mail and get home.  But instead of going to the end of the road, mom and daughter turned around and came back toward me and the dogs.  There are no sidewalks on our road because it's a private dirt and gravel lane.  Consequently, I was juggling the mail and my dogs, who were still barking like crazy.  Mom was still laughing and I heard her kid make some shitty remark out the window.  Merry fucking Christmas to you, too.

When I got back to the house, I started thinking about people who think it's okay to leave unstamped mail in mailboxes.  A quick search on the 'net led to comments by people who think this rule is akin to it not being legal to pull the tag off a mattress.  Another outraged comment came from someone who just wanted to save a little money by doing the legwork himself.  Someone else claimed that she had self-delivered mail because she didn't know a friend's address, but did know where her friend lived.  She said, "This rule can't apply to every situation, can it?"  It was as if she felt she should be excused from committing a crime because she had good intentions and didn't know any better.

Here's the thing.  The postal service may suck, but it needs money to survive.  Across the country, post offices are closing and services are being cut because there's not enough money for them.  People are not using the mail as much as they used to because they can use email and the Internet to conduct business.  Cheating the postal service out of revenue means that people will eventually lose their jobs because there won't be enough money to pay them or maintain the infrastructure.  Contrary to popular belief, the postal service is not a government agency paid for by taxes.  It's a business.

Frankly, I don't want people putting stuff in my mailbox.  The offenders are almost always people who are soliciting for their religion or business, not friends.  Besides, mail is a sensitive thing.  Maybe a lot of it nowadays is junk, but the mail can often contain sensitive information.  Folks, this is how peoples' identities can get stolen.  You may not be trying to steal mail when you drop off your unstamped Christmas card or wedding invitation, but someone else who would open a mailbox that isn't theirs might be.  I just read this morning that people who would stoop to identity theft aren't necessarily strangers; in fact, they often tend to be friends and family who have more access to your information  And how can we tell the difference between someone with friendly intentions and someone who means to do harm?  We can't selectively apply rules to those who are up to no good.  The rules have to apply to everyone.

We also need this rule in place to prosecute people who leave unsavory things in mailboxes.  How would you like it if one of your neighbors decided to show their disdain for you by leaving a nice big pile of dog crap in your mailbox?  If we allow people to put stuff in mailboxes that hasn't been through the mail system, how would you be able to prosecute someone who did something nasty?  I can see it now...  it's okay to leave cards, car keys, gift cards, compact discs, etc.  But it's not okay to leave a pile of shit or live snakes or something equally unpleasant?  What if you happen to think poop isn't gross or enjoy keeping snakes as pets?  Nah... it won't work.

So that's my little PSA about the mail.  It may seem like it's trivial and stupid and a pointless law, but really, there are good reasons why the rule exists.  So be a good citizen and stamp your letters.  Your postal worker will thank you.


  1. So it's OK to put stuff in mailboxes if it's stamped appropriately even if the U.S.P.S. doesn't deliver it? I did not know that. If I ever absolutely must put something in someone's box, which I cannot foresee, I'll first stamp it appropriately.

    Once the local Mormon scout group was trying to raise money by soliciting Christmas card delivery business. My dad is still a member of record and we're in the directory, so they came to our house to ask if we wanted them to deliver our local Christmas cards for a not-terribly-reasonable fee. My dad told them they were in violation of the law because the U.S. Postal Service has a monopoly on letter delivery. When they left, I asked him if it was true or if he was just harassing them. He said he was harassing them because Mormons are shameless about using the church directory to raise money and it used to be true, but it isn't any longer. He thinks it's not legal for unlicensed couriers to accept money to deliver letters. He says all sorts of things, though, so who knows what's the truth.

  2. I think you're not supposed to open peoples' mailboxes unless you are a postal carrier.

  3. I wish it was illegal for people in parking lots to be stuff on my car's windshield like restaurant fliers, ads of other types, tickets...:)

    Seriously though, the law is the law and people should follow it. It's not that hard to do, leave other people's mailboxes alone.

    Love your new background by the way!

  4. Thanks Lawfrog! Figured it was time for a change.

    I hear you on people who leave crap on windshields.

  5. I cringed when I saw the remark about the postal service needing to make money. Yes, it's a private institution now, but had to follow federal labor laws because of the strike back around 1970. But like any other monopoly, they have total control over their pricing. "So what if we can't efficiently run a business.....we'll just raise prices." Gee, that's what another extremely wasteful and inefficient organization does. That's our federal government. That's why they PO is so much in the red. I say the government should open mail service to competition and we'll see how fast this PO can miraculously get more efficient. The annual penny increase now is not enough.....now it's going to be 3 cents (that's an increase of 6.5%). Costs keep going up, service keeps going down. My son lives in an apartment complex and not one building gets mail anymore. The tenants all had to get PO boxes. Everyone just make sure you put a stamp on that dog shit when you put it in someone's mailbox. I'll put anything I damn well please in them.

    1. Angry much, Hypnoguy?

      Thanks for the rant. You're welcome to put "anything you damn well please" in someone's mailbox and you may very well get away with it. But the law does say it is illegal to put unstamped mail in peoples' mailboxes, so if you get caught doing it or someone complains about you sticking your hands in their mailbox, you might get fined or charged postage. If you're okay with that, have at it.

      As for me, I'm glad we now live in a place where all the mailboxes are locked.

    2. Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). Under PAEA, USPS was forced to “prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in an astonishing ten-year time span” — meaning that it had to put aside billions of dollars to pay for the health benefits of employees it hasn’t even hired yet, something “that no other government or private corporation is required to do.”
      As consumer advocate Ralph Nader noted, if PAEA was never enacted, USPS would actually be facing a $1.5 billion surplus today.

    3. @hypnoguy-I used the USPS in my business for 20 years with no problems for me or my over 100,000 customers. No need for anecdotal evidence at my end, as I've got 100,000 happy customers to back me up. I'm certain that 3 % increase will equate to about a 200% increase once UPS or FedEx get a sweetheart privatization deal with the federal government. As a side note, the USPS is a PRIMARY contracted transporter of packages for both UPS and FedEx.

    4. Hyponoguy, this is so totally wrong it's not even wrong.

  6. So, my husband and I share a PO box with his mother (who hates me...long typical story). We ended up with her truck title...and wanted to return it to her asap. I live within walking distance to the post office but not to her house and my husband takes our only truck to work every day. So...I figured it was in its original marked, postage paid, correctly addressed envelope, and I put it back in the po box when I picked up our mail. Again...long story...she was angry that we gave it back to her and threatened to turn me in gor committing a federal felony. Wtf?? Really? So essentially anyone who pivks up the stack of mail, sorts theirs out and leaves the rest is commiting a federal felony because they didnt remail it all to get it back in the po box?? I am waiting for the post office to open so I can call and ask...but in the meantime I came across this blog and thought Id ask.

    1. Honestly, if you share a box, I don't see what you did wrong by putting it back in the box you share. It's her box too, right?

    2. I have a brother that is newly divorced and his x-wife walks to my house (a mile away) to put in my mailbox mail that is in the name of my brother sent to her address.He lives in an apartment in the next town over with a different mailing address than me.she knows of his address but continues to do so.I finally confronted her snd told her to stop putting his mail in my mail box.if she continues to do it, is she acting against the law?

    3. She should be forwarding his mail rather than putting it in your box. That would be less trouble for both of you. If she has his new address, all she has to do is write the address on the envelope with the note "Please forward". She shouldn't be putting her hands in your box.