Door-to-door mail delivery in apartment blocks has slowly started to phase out. Now, more and more buildings are making use of the cluster mailbox system.
While this system is most popular in apartment buildings, logistically and financially it makes sense to start incorporating cluster mailboxes into neighborhood communities.
But, who ultimately is responsible for the maintenance and repairs of cluster mailboxes?
Below, we look at everything you need to know about cluster mailboxes. This includes what they are, who owns your mailbox, and who is responsible for repair and maintenance.
What Is A Cluster Mailbox?
Essentially, cluster mailboxes are community mailboxes. They are usually pedestal-mounted metal mailboxes that consist of many individual mailboxes. There should be one box for each household in the street, apartment complex, or subdivision. In some cases, they are attached to a metal post, wooden post, or even the wall of the apartment building.
They are also known as cluster units and each customer has a key for access and safety. These boxes have become increasingly popular in residential development complexes.
This type of USPS-approved mailbox can also include a parcel locker for larger packages that are unable to fit in the smaller individual mailbox. In this instance, the mail carrier will place the parcel locker key in the recipient's mailbox.
The recipient then uses the key to access their package. Once done, they must leave the key in the trapping lock for the local postal officials to access on their next mail delivery.
Not only can cluster mailboxes receive mail but residents can use them for outgoing mail, too - just like a curbside mailbox.
So, the use of cluster mailboxes is extremely beneficial not only for the customer using them but also for the United States Postal Service (USPS). As such, the USPS has encouraged the installation of both residential and commercial cluster mailboxes.
This assists with mass delivery as the mail delivered by the mail carrier is in one central location but reaches many different households.
Who Owns Your Cluster Mailbox?
The starting point to determine who is responsible for repairing cluster mailboxes is determining who owns your cluster mailbox.
There are essentially two options. Either the mail box is privately owned by the property or building owner or it is owned by the USPS. This will largely depend on who installed the unit.
Some cluster box units are purchased and installed privately by the homeowners association, property manager, or the owners themselves. In this instance, the residents make arrangements for accepting keys for their boxes from the manager or previous owner of the home, condo, or apartment.
The Postal Service (USPS)
In some instances, the US postal service installs the cluster mailbox units and parcel compartments. There are individual boxes to which each resident may gain access with a key issued by the local post office. There are no key deposits required.
Should a resident lose a key, the US post office will install a new compartment lock which the resident will pay for. If the resident moves, they will need to return all keys to the US post office and the USPS will change the lock before the new owner takes possession.
So, Who Is Responsible For Cluster Mailboxes?
Now that you know who the owner of the cluster box unit is, who is responsible for the repairs should someone vandalize or break the mailbox to the point where you are unable to receive mail from your postal workers?
This is an important issue. If the postal worker cannot deliver the mail, then the letter will be sent back to the local post office until the mailbox is accessible again.
Generally, the USPS will not be responsible for effecting repairs. Even in the instance where the postal service installs the mailbox cluster, they will usually assist with the initial process relating to keys and changing of locks but nothing further.
The USPS official rule book states: “purchase, installation, and maintenance of mail receptacles are the responsibility of the customer.”
So, who do you look to next?
Property Owners Or Homeowners Associations
It seems that when it comes to cluster boxes, the property owner or homeowners association is responsible for maintenance and repairs. However, the scope of the responsibility will usually be set out in an agreement between the HOA and the property owner.
If there is no agreement or the agreement is silent on these terms, then it is likely that it will be the property owner’s responsibility to repair and maintain the boxes. This includes installing a new lock, repainting, and maintenance.
USPS Cluster Mailboxes Regulations
There are a number of rules and procedures that require compliance when installing USPS cluster boxes. These are set out in the USPS regulations.
One important regulation is that the customer must ensure that the mailbox is accessible to the postal carrier so that they may deliver mail without any obstruction.
The postal service regulations further state that mail carriers may not have access to keys to open private mailboxes. The property owner must ensure that the tenant has their key. The USPS takes responsibility to provide a lock and three keys to each customer for the cluster mailbox unit.
Builders must install mailboxes at a pre-approved USPS location. This is to ensure that the cluster box is situated in a location where residents may easily access received mail and the letter carrier can easily deliver the mail.
It's clear that mail delivery is moving in a different direction. Now, postal carriers are no longer coming to your individual box at your front door. Not only is it more convenient to deliver mail to a whole neighborhood at one cluster mailbox, but it is also a great way for the USPS to save money.
Scrapping the door-to-door delivery has significantly reduced the time and cost of fuel to deliver and send mail.
But, with this new system comes regulations set by the federal government as well as a lot of confusion as to who is responsible for maintenance and repair.
So, do your research and look out for helpful links to make sure there are no delays in having your mailbox repaired!