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Why Mailboxes are Federal Property

Many people often wonder why mailboxes are federal property. There is actually a careful balance of legal policy that establishes the ownership and property rights of your mailbox. To be sure, the process starts with the resident’s purchase of an up-to-code mailbox. (You can visit usps.com to find out about all the necessary specifications). However, once a mailbox is properly installed and ready for use, it is effectively considered Federal Property.

According to federal law (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1705), it is “a crime to vandalize mailboxes (or to injure, deface or destroy any mail deposited in them). Violators can be fined up to $250,000, or imprisoned for up to three years, for each act of vandalism.” This law puts your mailbox under Federal jurisdiction in order to protect you (the resident) from any harm or vandalism that may occur from a mailbox’s misuse. (Aside: vandalism and even mail theft are rarely prosecuted as federal crimes, but that’s a topic for a separate blog post).

But, that is just the first half of the story.

Once you install your mailbox, and it is ready for the receipt of mail, you effectively lease your mailbox to the federal government for the service of mail delivery. Let’s not forget that, as long as you have an up-to-code mailbox, receiving mail is a free service. Sending mail isn’t free (stamps, shipping, postage, etc). Because you lease your mailbox to the Postal Service, they require that your mailbox meet certain criteria regarding placement, design, and usage in order to maintain your service. If you do not meet these criteria in any way, you break the lease and the Postal Service will no longer use your box for mail delivery.

For more information on the Postmaster General approval process specifically related to locking mailboxes, check out these useful posts.

80 Comments

  1. Craig Lounsbury on July 2, 2015 at 10:50 am

    It seems like part 1 and part 2 are somewhat in conflict. If the mailbox “is effectively considered Federal Property” then how can I “effectively lease your mailbox to the federal government for the service of mail delivery.” If its already theirs how do I lease it to them?

  2. Barbara on November 2, 2015 at 7:58 pm

    If the usps “owns” my mailbox, why do I have to replace it if it is damaged. I think it is ridiculous, and to make the matters worse I recently asked a local lady who I purchased items from to leave them in MY mailbox because I wasn’t home. The local post master called her and told her if she ever left anything else in MY mailbox it would be confiscated and she would be fined. I am beyond upset about this!!!

  3. phil on June 13, 2016 at 8:09 am

    But it is not Zero cost. Someone pays for the delivery. If I have something shipped UPS, someone pays for shipping and they leave it on my porch. If I have someone send me something via USPS they still pay to ship it but then I have to provide a special place for the postal person to leave it.

  4. JoeD on July 6, 2016 at 5:49 am

    They don’t own shit. They simply regulate the use of the mailbox. I can do whatever the hell I want to the mailbox. If they owned it that would not be the case. They regulate my automobile as well but that does not mean they own it. Firearms are regulated, does not mean anyone owns them but the purchaser.

    Over-the-air TV is free too, does that mean the FCC owns my TV?

  5. Lois on September 9, 2016 at 8:53 pm

    My 83yo, across the street, neighbor is livid because my underground lawn sprinkling system gets his 30yo metal (rusted) mailbox wet. This is now occurring after changes were recently made by the road commission after rebuilding our subdivision’s road.
    He is demanding that I “fix it” because I am breaking a federal law (ruining his mailbox.)
    Comments?

  6. Nicole on October 1, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    Question? Can a neighbor replace your mailbox with your knowledge if it is in their yard? Is this considered tampering?

  7. Robert on October 7, 2016 at 8:59 pm

    Can a subdivision Board publicize, inform, and conduct a vote to create uniform mailboxes within the subdivision at a properly held annual meeting of the membership? The By-laws require a simple majority vote of the membership on all matters before the board and before the membership for approval, but is each personal mailbox federal property whereby a collective affirmative vote of the membership, does not count?

  8. DaveB on November 16, 2016 at 4:18 am

    Whether some unwritten contract or the USPS simply assumes “ownership” if there is something in MY mailbox then it should be assumed to be mine. As long as it isn’t hiding something detrimental to a carriers well being ( poisonous animal, explosive etc ) the carrier should have ZERO right to remove anything but a stamped addressed envelope ( addressed to a different address) or something noted “For postal carrier” might be a thank you, Christmas card, small gift etc. Ive asked people to leave things in my mailbox, just leave my stuff alone

  9. Russell on December 14, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Saying that Post Office delivery service is free is nuts. They get paid by someone paying them to deliver mail by stamps. If they had nowhere to deliver the mail, there would not need to be a post office delivery service, just a huge warehouse in every city with thousands of little boxes that they would have to pay for! Can you imagine the lines. If delivery service is free, where does the money come from for trucks, bags, post persons, gas, dog lawsuits, upkeep of delivery vehicles? Do you wonder with stamps don’t cost 4 cents anymore?

  10. celia salzman on April 6, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    If the mailboxes are federal property, why do I have restrictions from a Home Owners Association to affix a special mailbox that fits into their criteria?
    If my new mailbox fits the criteria that is listed, why to I have to purchase a specifically designed mailbox.?

  11. Stacy on April 13, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    USPS gets no government money to run its operation, its completely funded by the sale of stamps and postage.

  12. Phil on June 6, 2017 at 5:49 am

    Stacy they do get money from the government
    It seems to work like a loan they need to pay back. I believe the treasury gives them the billions they need but they claim it costs more money to deliver mail door to door than it would to have centralized mail boxes. You can look all this up on the net.

    • clyde kadinklehoffer on September 12, 2019 at 1:18 pm

      wrong

  13. Tony on July 22, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    My neighbor ripped my mailbox out of his yard today and destroyed it. Is this against the law and what charges could I press against him?

  14. c on July 25, 2017 at 9:13 am

    The USPS is not “completely” self funded and hasn’t been for a long time. Don’t kid yourself, they lose a lot of tax dollars every year and have for a long time.

    • clyde kadinklehoffer on September 12, 2019 at 1:19 pm

      wrong

  15. Pat on August 3, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    18 US code 1705 sites a violation for Whoever willfully or maliciously injures, tears down or destroys any letter box or other receptacle intended or used for the receipt or delivery of mail on any mail route, or breaks open the same or willfully or maliciously injures, defaces or destroys any mail deposited therein, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

    Nowhere in the LAW does it claim or state that the mail box is owned by the USPS. For them to deliver it has to be approved. If someone is inferring that the USPS owns my box due to a law covering damages then the state owns my auto if there is a law covering damages to it by someone and that is not true.

  16. Tracy on August 10, 2017 at 7:40 am

    I have a mailbox that is in the same place as it was when I bought the property 22 years ago. It was put there years before because the carrier didn’t want to deliver down our private association gravel road. The owner has passed away and the new owner wants me to move my mailbox supposedly to put a driveway in. Is this legal or bullying? Do I have any rights?

  17. Is it illegal to paint a collective mailboxJean Martin MAH ER in a condominium complex on August 16, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    Is it illegal to paint a collective mailbox in a condominium complex

  18. Brendan on December 2, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    I live in a rural town in RI and the USPS just notified us that they will no longer deliver to our house due to the conditions of the road. They informed us that we can place our mailbox across the entrance to our street, however the neighbor near that property claims it is his property. Can we still place our mailbox there or since we were informed to do so by the USPS?

  19. Linda on December 11, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    We have had a mail box in front of our house for 20 years. We have never used it because we have a box at the post office. Can I have my paper delivery person start putting our morning newspaper into it?

  20. Filou on December 22, 2017 at 5:48 am

    Hello everyone, my landlord (who lives in Hong Kong) take out my name from the mailbox and the intercom and I am having troubles receiving my mails and packages. Is he legally allowed to do that? Many thanks in advance to anyone who would have some advice in this regards as this has become a major nuisance.

  21. Rebecca Freeman on December 29, 2017 at 6:42 am

    In a situation where 8 condos share the same mailbox, one man owns 6 of the condos. He took down the mailbox in the process of changing some landscaping. His condos are only rented out for 1 to 7 nights at a time. The two units he doesn’t own are rented for several months at a time. Could he be fined by the post office for failing to put the mailbox back up?

  22. Addison on January 15, 2018 at 7:55 pm

    I purchased a home in June. There was a mailbox that was used by the previous owners with our street number on it. Two weeks from our settlement we noticed our neighbor removed the name and changed the numbers on the mailbox to his address. What do you recommend we do?

  23. jack palmer on March 2, 2018 at 7:14 am

    We own a apartment complex that has the mailboxes just inside of the entrance of each corridor. These mailboxes
    Were installed in 1972, and are needing minor repair but they were installed and owned by the postal service. Keys have to be purchased at the post office. It is our understanding that our service personnel can not repair them.

    Is the location and maintenance of these mailboxes a responsibility of the post office?

  24. Mike on March 11, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    So if the mail receptacle is the Fed Govts, but it is on my property that I paid for and continue to pay taxes on, shouldn’t the Fed Govt be paying me rent for storing their receptacle on my property? Which would also beg to inquire if they are going to pay me back the over $300 that I paid for said receptacle, since it is said to be owned by them? First paragraph of this article says “it is effectively considered Federal Property”. I believe a refund and past due rent is owed to me.

  25. Collette W. Bernard on April 7, 2018 at 8:46 am

    I see “decorated mailboxes” even some with religious messages on them..some that are wrap around adhevise applied, others are hand painted. Is any of this against the law?

  26. John on April 11, 2018 at 9:55 am

    Am I permitted to decorate my mailbox since it is federal property? For example, for the Christmas holiday, am I legally and federally permitted to put a garland/bow on it to tie it in with the rest of our exterior house decorations? The decorations do not interfere with the deliver person’s delivery process (i.e., can still easily open door, put down flag, etc.).

  27. Dave W on April 14, 2018 at 12:30 pm

    My neighbor built a new house and he put his new mailbox almost directly across from my driveway. He’s made it difficult for me to get out of my driveway in my own vehicle and impossible for septic tank trucks or the propane truck to get out of my driveway. When he was building the house he agreed to move the mailbox about ten feet further down the cul de sac and that would clear my driveway. He said he doesn’t want to put the box on his side of the driveway b/c he wants access to back up his RV into his driveway. It doesn’t seem fair that all the mail trucks and ups trucks can only turn right. The road is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time. If the road had been a two lane road it would have been okay. Who do I contact to get him to move his mailbox?

  28. Rachel a Parker on April 15, 2018 at 5:34 am

    We have a quartz company just up the roads from us who’s trucks keep running down our mailbox, we have replaced mailbox 5 or 6 times in the last 5 yrs. And are really tired of it! Is this company liable for damages? All we want is for them to replace said mailbox when it has been destroyed buy their big trucks..

  29. Pete on April 28, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    I’m a real estate developer and install group mailboxes required by the local postmaster. In one city we develope in the Postmaster is trying to make our company give out the keys to new homeowners. In other cities we deliver the locks and keys to the Postmaster and they take it from there. Does a Postmaster have the authority to make me responsible for giving keys to new homeowners?

  30. Mike Casey on May 3, 2018 at 2:25 pm

    I am a local contractor i put a hand written bill in a customers mail box. The post office took it out put it in a envelop and put it in mine three days later. (I wonder why the USPS is not making any money). So i called the post master they told me they own the inside of the mailbox and no one but them can put anything in it. The single dumbest thing someone from the government has ever said!

  31. Steve Charles on June 16, 2018 at 8:20 pm

    Can my mail carrier write on the outside of my mailbox? Thanks

  32. Matthew Bean on August 1, 2018 at 12:10 pm

    OK let’s be clear here, nobody is getting mail delivered for FREE and therefore would constitute a “lease” of my mailbox to the USPS. Any mail delivered was paid for by someone to have it delivered to a certain location meaning it is not free but rather the USPS is doing what they were paid to do. Postal employees have gone from Pony Express and neither rain, sleet or snow could stop them to a bunch of lazy government employees that won’t even get out of their vehicle if someone has blocked a mailbox. This is why your going broke, the UPS and FedEx carriers come to my door and ring the bell with a smile on their faces. I personally believe dissolving the USPS and contract it out to commercial providers would be a blessing. You have sealed your own fate!!

  33. Laurie Hart on August 9, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Removing stuff from my mailbox without my permission is theft. I am very upset that items in my mailbox without postage were confiscated. My neighbors should be able to leave items in the box for me to retrieve. It has absolutely no effect on thier mail delivery. Not sure why the USPS believes they have the right to confiscate. What law/regulation allows them to do so?

  34. Michelle Wilson on August 10, 2018 at 6:48 am

    Hi, my front yard is shaded by oak trees causing it impossible to grow grass. Bought ten bushes/trees and seeded area with flower seeds. Surroundings area with g
    18″ garden fence because of dogs, children or anyone. Why I want a nice front yard at my best and they cost me my personal money. Area only covers small area of yard. All sidewalk, driveway and patio/mailbox are in great condition. The mail carrier walks over garden fence for me to find flat plants, fence bent, small bush flat & dead, mud on my patio from their shoes. Called post office to be advised they could walk anywhere on my property. Don’t understand with nice sidewalk, driveway and patio what’s the problem with them? Being a single senior citizen my little garden brings me pleasure. Why are they allowed to destroy my garden and be disrespectful to a senior woman?

  35. Dennis Hanks on September 18, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    If your box is getting covered by an aggressive bush for lack of identity and it’s not your property, (the box has to be on the right side depending on mail route) who’s responsibility is it to get rid of the bushes?

  36. Howard on October 3, 2018 at 8:18 am

    This is completely incorrect. A privately purchased and installed mailbox remains the property of the purchaser. HOWEVER, Federal statues and regulation protect and regulate what one can, and cannot do with that property. This is no different that an automobile – when an individual purchases a car, the car is the property of the individual. The vehicle does NOT effectively become govertnment property just because you drive it on a city, county, state or federally funded roadway. However, all of those entities have power to regulate what you do, and cannot do, with your vehicle while on the road.

  37. Kathy LaFollette on November 2, 2018 at 11:29 pm

    My neighbor has his mail box covered with political stickers. How can this be legal. It is like the federal government taking a position.

  38. Ang on November 15, 2018 at 6:41 am

    My mail carrier keeps writing my house numbers on my mailbox with Big Black magic marker. the first time it happened they denied doing it so I scrubbed It Off it took over 30 minutes with a scratcher alcohol to get it to be removed. now they’ve done it again in the same sloppy handwriting on the front of my mailbox and it looks awful. This time the carrier admitted to doing it but his manager says that it’s his right to write the house numbers on my mailbox however he chooses, even though my house numbers are displayed clearly on my house directly behind my mailbox, at this point I just want the mail carrier to take his time and effort to remove the permanent marker from my mailbox and I will apply numbers and a classy manner so that they are there but the manager at USPS says it’s not their responsibility to fix it? What are my rights here?

  39. Mary Lou Dolinsky on December 10, 2018 at 6:20 pm

    I live in Minnesota and we have 3 mailboxes on a post with not a lot of room to put the flags up. The post needs to be replaced as well as the 3 mailboxes. Who is responsible for taking care of this?

  40. Toni W. on December 14, 2018 at 2:41 pm

    There is a website that outlines requirements for mail receptacles. It is called the domestic mail manual. Also, the post office does NOT receive ANY tax dollars, ever. Receiving mail is a privilege not a right. You still get mail even if you never send any. Restrictions placed on mailboxes are to help with delivery standards and keeping costs down. If everyone could use whatever they wanted and place mailboxes wherever that wanted, delivery would cost a lot more because you made extra steps for the mail carrier. Remember, you only check ONE mailbox, they go to hundreds per day.

  41. Amanda on January 13, 2019 at 7:32 am

    What can one hang on their mailbox?
    Can a neighbor hang a spandex stuffed with something with a g string wearing high heels?

    It looks like the bottom half of a body bending over ( to get into the mailbox).

  42. Linda on February 14, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Bought a mailbox had it installed on side of road as advices by postal employee. I was later advices my box was going to be relocated for road work for about a year. Okay. I had to travel a farther distance to retrieve my mail. Last week mailman stopped me to let me know I could now move my box to front of my home and mail deliver to my home????. He stopped by to tell me my mailbox had been removed and destroyed.?. Never was told there was a time frame. I live on a set income, my box was bought last year, and now need another one. Why can STATE send a notice.

  43. Joe on February 23, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Our Association has two pairs of mailbox ‘clusters’, and each cluster has a box in the top left corner with a slot to drop outgoing mail, for a total of 4. We would like to re-purpose one of those outgoing boxes so that residents can drop non-stamped Association fees through the slot, and the USPS can deliver mail to the same box through the back. This box, and the remaining 3 outgoing boxes, would be clearly labeled as such. Our regular USPS deliverer would be fine with it as well, but he wanted me to call the post office to make sure it would be ok. I did so, and they said no outgoing box could be used for anything else. You’ve also indicated that only paid postage envelopes can go in a mailbox. What statute stipulates this? What’s the harm in re-purposing one of our 4 outgoing boxes?

  44. Kevin on February 25, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    When living in a condo association do they have the right to have the key to your mailbox

  45. Billy on March 16, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    I believe the “it’s federal property” of a mailbox is due (in part) to the legal definition of littering. 90-95% of my mail these days (2019) is junk/bulk. A complete waste of resources and I put it in the recycling bin without opening, even the ones that disguise themselves as “Important: Open Immediately” crap. Now, that is technically garbage, i.e. litter. If they were to throw that on your driveway, like one of those free advert-only “papers” then that would be littering subject to fine; instead, they place it in their “federally leased mailbox” which is not littering. Check and mate.

  46. Laura on June 10, 2019 at 8:46 am

    I live in a rural/ residential area, my mail box which has been at it’s current location for almost 40 yrs, is curbside on county property. also, it is directly above the driveway of a neighbor building a new home. The neighbor wants us to move our mailbox, which we do not want to. There is a split in the road and stop sign directly I front of our home, making this unsafe for the postman to stop any where else. The postmaster has verbally told me that we do not have to move the mailbox. But the neighbor has just told us that he is acquiring a “permit” to do so anyways. is this legal? or possible? And if he does so, what legal recourse do I have?

  47. mike holabird on June 23, 2019 at 8:30 am

    I’ve tried for a span of 2-1/2 years to get my post office to fix our cluster box. It was vandalized by a young boy. Parents of the boy did nothing. it was spray painted black over several areas. it looks horrible! it has been beaten with a steel bar, the partial box locks don’t work. I’ve called consumer complaints at the usps regionally, and nationally. they all took my info with promises to get back to me on a plan. no response! i had the same result with the local post master i could at least repaint the unit, but the legality of doing it seems unclear. open to ideas. thanks mike.

  48. Sheila on July 26, 2019 at 2:37 pm

    Hi,
    Regarding federal jurisdiction over mail boxes, under federal law Title 18 Section 1705. Does this extend to the area around the mail box for the protection of the mail carrier and mail recipient. For example, if a mail carrier was attacked in the area of the mail box, is this a crime under federal jurisdiction or state jurisdiction? What about an attack on the mail recipient getting their mail, is this a crime under federal jurisdiction or state jurisdiction?

  49. Gabriel w/ MailBoss on September 18, 2019 at 10:12 pm

    Hi all, please bare with us while we are in the middle of building out our new website. Some of the comments and replies appear to be missing from our upload. Please be patient while we get these all processed and displayed, and if you have any specific questions that you cant seem to sort out, as always, please direct them to info@mailboss.com

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