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This is an on-going struggle for me with the management of my apartment building.

In the past, the manager has instructed the USPS mail carrier to return-to-sender my mail, because it was addressed to a name that is sufficiently different from my legal name.

For one such mailpiece, the mail carrier placed it in my box, but with a big question mark written with Sharpie next to the name. I wrote a note for the mail carrier on a photocopy of the front of the mailpiece showing the question mark. My note said, "Yes, please deliver this mail." On the same photocopy, the mail carrier wrote a reply to me: "Can't, name not on lease."

Soon after, I received an email from the manager, with a scanned image of my photocopy/note as an attachment. In part, the email said

We informed the carrier that we do not have any documentation for a resident by that name, and that their mail should continue to be returned.

The email went on to say that if I have a roommate (I don't, see below), then that person needs to be added to the lease (which costs more money). I replied truthfully that there is no other person living in my apartment and invited management to check the security video. I added that I don't appreciate management interfering with my mail.

Later the manager backpedaled. Even though his first email stated that he instructed the mail carrier to return the mail, his reply said,

All I did was inform USPS that you were the only party on the lease. Any decision to return mail was made by the carrier.

I asked on /r/USPS whether I should be able to get mail delivered to a pseudonym if I live in an apartment building. There were replies on both sides, but wzombie13 cited the rule book,

Deliver mail according to the instructions or known desire of the addressee. [Line 131.35, Handbook M-41: City Delivery Carriers Duties and Responsibilities]

I tried to call the local post office several times over the course of several days, but nobody ever answered. The line rings and rings and then eventually clicks off, and eventually I stopped trying.

Fast-forward to now, I am renewing my lease, and the lease agreement has been amended,

Residents agree that the receipt of mail by any individual not listed as a Resident or Occupant in this Agreement at the Leased Premises shall be proof of occupancy of that individual and a violation of this Agreement.

I had privacy concerns even before this (the mail carrier really shouldn't have let my landlord scan my mail, and the landlord also shouldn't be releasing my private information to the mail carrier). The current manager claims it is USPS policy to deliver only to the name on the lease, but I think this clause of the contract belies that. I do not believe it is appropriate for my landlord to monitor my mail, and this lease expects me to waive any right to the privacy of my mail by agreeing to let the landlord use mail delivery as a mechanism of enforcement.

I have argued that this is Obstruction of Mail (18 U.S. Code § 1701) because I am prevented from receiving mail that a homeowner, as opposed to a tenant, would be able to receive, and Obstruction of Correspondence (18 U.S. Code § 1702) because the landlord is "prying into [my] business." But they won't change any language of the lease agreement (these professional management companies never do, no matter how ridiculously badly the form contract fits the reality of the apartment building).


As an aside, I'll outline my personal reasons for wanting to receive mail under different names, because I know people will question my motives. But I believe there are many other valid reasons for wanting this, and this question is not about whether my own justification is valid. Rather, I am seeking legal arguments to back up my intuitive belief that my mail is simply none of my landlord's business.

As a protective measure against identity theft, I use different names in situations where I feel using my real name is not necessary. A simple example is buying online. I need to use my real address if I want to receive the physical thing I am buying. But from a purely practical standpoint, there is no need for my real name to get stored indefinitely in the seller's database, which is probably not secure. Even large corporations that spend millions on information security are commonly hacked, so it is far more effective for me to withhold my personal information than to rely on sellers -- whether big or small -- to secure their systems. Since it is the combination of my real name and real address that is valuable to an identity thief, using a different name prevents the proliferation of the valuable combination.

  • I'm not sure I know the answer to the question, but how is your mailroom set up? Are you even sure it's the postman who puts the mail in boxes? For private homes, they'll just deliver based on address. – pboss3010 Nov 1 at 12:25
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    There are two separate issues here. 1: is the new lease term enforceable hard to say: what state)? 2: How do you get the USPS to just deliver the mail (legally, less challenging)? W.r.t. issue 2, talk to the local postmaster, but yeah the mailman is kind of wrong. W.r.t. issue 1: as a curiosity matter we might be able to add a bit but it would depend on case law in your state. – user6726 Nov 1 at 17:01
  • What are you currently doing about these packages you're ordering online and not receiving? – Luck Nov 1 at 17:34
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    Sign your lease as "wemily, stage name Dwayne Johnson, also known as The Rock; from time to time receiving correspondence by nom de marketing list as Stormy Daniels, Donald Duck, Richard Bachman, the Artist formerly known as Prince... etc." (go ahead and future proof it - how many do you create in a year) They have already seen your pseudonyms and will undertake to see mail addresses again, and this answers their concern about unlisted occupants. – user662852 Nov 2 at 2:33
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Residents agree that the receipt of mail by any individual not listed as a Resident or Occupant in this Agreement at the Leased Premises shall be proof of occupancy of that individual and a violation of this Agreement.

I assume that the lease states that only the listed individuals can reside in the unit. Maybe they think that this says that receipt of mail by an unlisted person is a further violation of the lease, I don't think that is clearly enough stated that the courts would agree that receiving mail is itself a violation of the lease. Instead, it seems to be intended to say something about an existing clause – you can't have other people living there. The courts would look at the requirements of the lease, and ask "did you comply"? The question of whether you did a certain thing is a question of fact that has to be resolved in court.

However, the revised lease language does not state that all mail must be addressed to Johnny Johnson – it only addresses receipt by a person not on the lease. You are (apparently) on the lease, so you may receive mail there. Nothing in the lease controls how such mail can be addressed. If you receive mail addressed to Tommy Thompson, your defense is that you received the mail, and you are on the lease, so you will not have violated the new clause.

  • Indeed. For the landlord to enforce the "receipt of mail by any individual" clause, there would have to be another individual. But there isn't. – phoog Nov 2 at 3:29
  • Ah, well, the lease is 62 numbered pages and does prescribe elsewhere how mail should be addressed, although it is all murky: "Only registered Residents are to receive mail. All mail must contain the full address of your residence, which includes the number of the Leased Premises as well as the building number - if applicable." Then again, five pages later, "Persons receiving mail to the Leased Premises will be considered occupants." – wemily Nov 2 at 3:48
  • The wording could all be interpreted in different ways, and under some interpretations, what I wish to do isn't incompatible. But just the threat of this language in the lease is enough to dissuade me from taking the identity theft precautions that I would like. I agree that your reasoning would have a decent shot as a defense in court, thank you for the answer! But at this point I'm not trying to defeat an eviction. I'm trying to use my apartment and address and mailbox in a way that I think is reasonable, and I'd like to do that without the fear of having to face eviction as a consequence. – wemily Nov 2 at 3:51
  • Another way to interpret it, Landlord could claim that Johnny accepted mail addressed to Tommy, and therefore Johnny is in violation of the lease because only Johnny is named in the lease. The existence of the mail with Johnny's apartment's address and Tommy's name is all the proof Landlord needs, because Johnny agreed to that in the lease, "Residents agree that [...] shall be proof of [...] a violation of this Agreement." Under this interpretation, it does not matter if Tommy even exists, because Landlord has stipulated that the mail is sufficient proof by itself. – wemily Nov 2 at 4:25
  • This is the correct answer. That clause may have been written by a real lawyer somewhere, but the landlord probably just copy-pasted it into the agreement thinking it gives him some power that it doesn't. As it's written, you can receive mail addressed to any name you like, as long as it's one of your own names. – ReinstateMonicaSackTheStaff Nov 19 at 19:28
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The lawyer you contacted is right that the landlord has the right to draft the rental agreement as he/she sees fit, but you have the right to say a provision is illegal in court.

Washington state requires a landlord to give you notice in advance if they are inspecting your property and your mailbox should count as your property, ihmo. https://www.landlordology.com/washington-landlord-tenant-laws/

No one other than the judge can say how he/she would rule, but I think you would have a good case saying that a requirement to search your mail at any time would violate RCW 59.18.150. https://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=59.18.150

Show your landlord the portion of that law that says you must be notified prior to inspection or entry to your property and tell him you believe your mailbox is included in that.

  • Okay, so if I sign it today I can still challenge the part that I don't agree with in court tomorrow? – wemily Nov 1 at 21:25
  • Yes, but that does not mean you will win. I agree with you that the landlord should not do that, but that doesn't mean anyone else will. – Putvi Nov 1 at 21:53
  • Thanks for the answer, it helps to know that there is still a way to protest something after I have signed. I'm not sure this would be covered by law regarding inspections. RCW 59.18.150 uses the term "dwelling unit" and the wording of the lease agreement is very indirect. It does not say the landlord will access my mail box. The way it has happened to me and one other Redditor is that the mail carrier became a tattletale. – wemily Nov 2 at 1:45
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I would advise calling some law offices to consult if there is a case here, but there are plenty of valid reasons why you could have a package sent to your address with a different name (It's Christmas and you want to keep presents for different people stored and organized, so you have their names on the shipping lable to do this on the cheap. You have a friend from out of town who needs the contents of the package shipped there and you're holding until you arrive. You're trying to minimize your real identity online so if leaked, the fraudulent purchases will not be associated with the name of the account holder. Your co-worker is shipping a gift for a spouse and said spouse is always home before co-worker is and will recieve the package. Co-work decides to send it to you, and then you deliver it at work, avoiding spouse.).

Either way, your Landlord is obstructing the mail and assuming that you are violating your lease for receiving a package in c/o someone else and will charge you based on the assumption that no one orders a package for themselves delivered to a place that is not their home (Considering I used to travel to the other side of the country for Christmas, I would routinely send my gifts to the address I was staying at, but would use my name so the recipient would not open them (they were prolific online shoppers) and so that they weren't confused for other family member's gifts.).

While I don't know how to best approach the matter through legal channels (I wouldn't go full blown suit or criminal... it's probably an issue with contract which can be done in binding arbitration.). But most law firms will consult before accepting a case, to see if the case falls into their field of legal expertise, and may even recommend an office if they do not.

I would also call the office of United States Postal Inspection Services, which is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Post Office, specifically dedicated to looking into crimes involving the abuse of U.S. Post System. They're also the oldest Federal Law Enforcement Branch in the United States, so they've probably been around the block with these cases ("Been around the Block? Cause they're Postmen. Get it? Get it? sigh Statler and Waldorf better not appear in my comments section). I can't say that this is necessarily a criminal matter, but they most certainly can and they would certainly know a lot better than your local Post Office employees do. And when dealing with criminal matters at the Federal Level, the Feds have a ridiculously good conviction rate when they bring a case to trial. While you should never assume guilt until the verdict, usually if a Federal Law Enforcement Agency says "You committed a crime" I wouldn't bet against them if I had to lay money on it.

First step, talk to a lawyer about what you can do with respect to the lease, as a way of putting some notice in the record that you have qualms about this provision. I could be wrong, but threat of eviction without signing might be found that the signature was done under duress, thus wasn't a valid contract, but it would be helpful to have some way of noting that you're signing so you can keep your apartment despite the issue you have with the clause about the mail delivery. I don't know the exact rules on the matter within your state, I'm a nerd who likes knowing the law but not a lawyer, and my legal nerdgasming is more in Constitutional Law issues and criminal law issues, not contract law, so you want to talk to someone who is not limited in giving you a better answer.

TLDR:

  1. Talk to a contract lawyer about best way to handle the contract given the deadline. Try and get some kind of CYA (Cover your ass) notice about the issue and the deadline in a record that can be introduced as evidence at a later date.

  2. Get advice on your situation from a relevant lawyer about the matters of civil action (if the contract lawyer is capable of helping, great. If he recomends you call another firm, do that.).

  3. Call the offices of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to discuss matters related to criminal violations. Don't expect any investigation to be done with anything remotely called fast. This is the Federal Government we're talking about. They will likely not be close to your nearest post office.

  • I have tried several times to find a local attorney. The lawyers I've interviewed don't latch on to any tenant's rights issues. I typically just get the standard advice of, "If you don't like the lease agreement, then don't sign it. And I guess that means you'll have to move." – wemily Nov 1 at 20:25
  • Yesterday I asked to sign the lease on paper instead of using the digital signing system. I redlined the new clause, wrote a note referencing Obstruction of Mail, and signed with the words "under protest" after my signature. Today the manager informed me that the contract I signed is void, he cannot accept any lease that has been modified. He is giving me until the end of the day to sign again without changes. – wemily Nov 1 at 20:40
  • So, for now I've signed a new copy of the lease with the words "under protest with objections documented in separate letter" following my signature. The manager said he could accept that, and would keep my separate letter with the lease agreement, but he couldn't accept yesterday's copy where I had crossed something out. What about tenant privacy as a constitutional issue? Maybe a landlord trying to spy on tenants has been challenged in court? – wemily Nov 2 at 2:07
  • @wemily to me the likeliest course of action is to report the local post office to the inspection services because they should not be telling your landlord whose mail is being delivered. Alternatively, sign the lease and let the landlord try to prove that there is someone else who has been receiving mail there. – phoog Nov 2 at 3:34
  • @phoog: I would report the whole situation to the USPSIS and not the local branch of the USPS office. I really don't think it's the mail man's problem that the person isn't accepting the mail, so much as it is the landlord. I would also make sure you protect your copy of the lease and the letter so the Landlord doesn't change it, I get a photocopy of the accepted lease and the letter of protest and mail a copy to both him and yourself (drop in a blue mail box). When you recieve yours, do not open it.+ – hszmv Nov 6 at 13:54

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