Direct Mail – Your Mailbox is Off Limits!

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Your mailbox is off limits. You don’t even own it. The moment you place your mailbox in front of your house, it is governed by the rules of the post office. And if you use it for anything but postal business (and pay the fees), you’re looking for a battle.

Below is a direct quote from the USPS’ Postal Bulletin (Issue 21861, 2-17-94, p. 37):

Mailable Matter in or on Private Mail Receptacles Mailable matter not bearing postage found in or on private mail receptacles represents a revenue deficiency to the Postal Service and is a violation of federal law. Title 18 United States Code, section 1725, provides for a fine of not more than $300 per piece for these violations. All employees must uniformly enforce the procedures detailed in the Domestic Mail Manual, section P011.2.0. The failure to enforce these procedures uniformly may jeopardize the criminal prosecution of repeated violators.

This is not directed at the accidental piece of mail dropped into the mailstream without a stamp. Even though we spend $20 to $30 to buy and install a mailbox in front of our house, that box is designed — even mandated by law — for the exclusive use of the post office.

If the local pizza delivery joint walks around your neighborhood, they may not stick their ads in or on your mailbox. They can’t hang it by a string, they can’t stick it inside, and they aren’t allowed to stick it in that little space between the red flag and your box. Not permissible. Same goes for the paper delivery people. They can hang their stuff on your door, stick it in-between the crack of your door, plop it inside your milkbox, and if they feel really gutsy, even hand it to you. But they may not put it in your mailbox without paying the proper postage. If you find this “non-mail” invading your mailbox, and it really bothers you, call your local postal inspector. They’ll put a stop to it real fast. Technically, your neighbor can’t even leave a message for you in your mailbox unless they, too, pay the postage.

I’m not particularly in favor of the strictness of this law, but its existence has allowed the USPS to maintain its monopoly on the mailstream, which means that overall our postal service has the largest volume of any country and, thanks to economies of scale and no serious competition, we also have a reasonable first class and bulk postage rate (even at .42 for first class (or the new rate of .44 that goes into effect in mid-May, it’s still lower than most everywhere else).

Why the post office needs a mailing monopoly: If the USPS delivered only 3/4 of the current mail volume, they’d still have to keep almost all their existing post offices open and employees on the payroll, and they’d have to make up the difference with a much higher postal rate. Otherwise they’d have to cut back on service, and no one would like that. So this ruling, which keeps non-mail from getting into mailboxes, actually works in our favor.

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