Whose Mailbox is it Anyway?

Recently, I fixed and painted my old and ailing mailbox. After sanding it, and applying two coats of primer and two coats of black paint, I affixed new numbers representing our street address. It would seem natural that I should maintain and take good care of my mailbox – after all it is mine, right? Wrong. The U.S. Postal Service owns it.

That’s right, folks. You may have paid for the mailbox. You may have installed it. You may have painted and maintained it. It may have your name and address on it. But you do not own it.

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How do I know that you and I don’t own our own mailboxes? Simple. I was recounting my weekend handyman exploits, including my mailbox painting, to a coworker, when she asked if I had saved my receipts to submit to the U.S. Postal Service for reimbursement. I naturally asked why, and she explained that my mailbox is actually the postal service’s mailbox.

She had been handing out a flyer for a school activity to a few of her neighbors. For those who were not home, she placed the flyer in their mailbox. A U.S. Postal Service carrier spotted her and followed her in his truck. He then confronted her, saying she could not place anything in a U.S. Postal Service mailbox. My friend naturally pointed out that she was simply placing a school flyer in the mailboxes of a few of her friends. The postal carrier’s response was instructive: “Listen, lady, your friends don’t own these mailboxes. We do.”

My coworker and I both knew that one cannot tamper with the mail. We all want the mail to be secure. But placing a school flyer in a mailbox hardly jeopardizes the security or safety of the mail. Moreover, tampering or stealing mail is a separate crime. Quite frankly, there is no sound reason why the Post Office has to claim ownership of my mailbox. All the laws they want to enforce (i.e. against stealing mail, tampering with mail, sending harmful substances in the mail, etc.) can be enforced without them laying claim to my mailbox and trying to control its use. I for one would prefer to have a school flyer or a community notice or even my newspaper placed in my mailbox. That way, these items wouldn’t get rained on or blown all over the neighborhood. And there is plenty of space for these things, plus my daily mail.

My grandfather always told me, “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” When it comes to my mailbox, I’ve been paying the piper — I bought the mailbox and installed and maintained it. However, the Postal Service is calling the tune — it controls and micromanages the use of my mailbox. I would prefer to use my mailbox to receive my daily newspaper, school flyers and my small packages. But the Postal Service says no — only it can use my mailbox. How many mornings is our newspaper wet? How often does the school flyer get blown around the neighborhood? How many times have we missed the delivery of a package because we are not home? While it makes sense to use my mailbox to better serve my needs, I simply do not have the right under current law to make such choices.

There is something wrong with this picture. Our representatives in Congress need to understand that if my mailbox, which I bought and paid for, and which I maintain, is located on my property, there is no justification for the U.S. Postal Service to claim “ownership” of it.

Then again, if Postal Service officials really want to claim ownership of my mailbox, I’ll consider a deal: How about I sell it to them, lease to them the small spot of soil on which it sits, and charge them for my maintenance of it?

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Note: George C. Landrith is president of Frontiers of Freedom Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan public policy organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans and restoring constitutional limits on the extent and power of government.