10

If you printed up a flier and walked around shoving them into people’s mailboxes, that would be illegal because it is misuse of postal systems/property.

But what if someone else’s mail gets delivered to you by mistake? Can you just put it in their mailbox? Can anyone just use mailboxes as long as they are being used rightfully and lawfully, or do you have to be some sort of “Certified Deputy of the Postmaster General”?

I know you can just write “delivered to wrong address” on the envelope, but sometimes it is easier to just bring it a few doors down.

Assume for the sake of the question that the mailbox is on or near a public road (accessible without trespassing).

8
  • 1
    That's what posties do. What makes you think only they can do it?
    – Greendrake
    Dec 18 '20 at 23:29
  • I believe that the answer is yes, it is O.K., but I haven't verified it.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 18 '20 at 23:34
  • 6
    I don’t know anyone who has ever worked for the post office. I didn’t know if they had some sort of badge or certification process. There are certainly other types of public servants (like police) that are granted permissions not granted to everyone.
    – SegNerd
    Dec 19 '20 at 1:43
  • 8
    @CodeAngry What you're missing is that it's a Federal crime in the United States to put things (e.g. fliers) in a mailbox directly. The illegality here is not against the owner of the mailbox, but against the United States itself (who has quasi-ownership right to the space inside the mailbox). "I had the recipient's permission" doesn't factor into it, because it's not the owner of the land the mailbox is on which counts, but the "owner" of the space inside the mailbox.
    – R.M.
    Dec 19 '20 at 18:40
  • 4
    I understand that it is fairly unlikely that anyone would actually get in trouble over this, but (1) the point of this SE is to understand laws, (2) even if the chance of being punished is low, it isn’t zero, and (3) some people actually just like to do the right thing even if there is no real threat of punishment.
    – SegNerd
    Dec 19 '20 at 23:56
26

The specific reason why you can't deliver general fliers in mailboxes is 18 USC 1725, which says

Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title.

Misdirected mail has the requisite postage, therefore you can put it in the mailbox.

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  • 6
    @nick012000 you can even pay them to put that junk for you.
    – Džuris
    Dec 19 '20 at 13:47
  • 9
    I'm really puzzled that the USPS (and federal government) is interested in the mailbox at someones house. And that they name it a "established, approved, or accepted" letter box. Is there a procedure for approving a letter box by the USPS? Here in Germany my leter box is my property and the state has no interest who uses it to communicate with me. With unwanted fliers you can deal via private law directly against the distributor, if it is a bigger harassment.
    – K-HB
    Dec 19 '20 at 16:20
  • 10
    @K-HB yes, there are standards. And the reason why they care has something to do with the "Universal Service Obligation" — USPS is required to deliver to everyone in the country, within a certain timeframe, at a flat rate, no matter how remote or inconvenient the location. In return they get a certain monopoly status, so that they don't get stuck with only the most inconvenient destinations (as someone without the universal obligation could deliver more cheaply to most locations).
    – hobbs
    Dec 19 '20 at 20:37
  • 2
    @MikeScott I'm simplifying. It's not a pure monopoly. But in any case how it works is how it works, regardless of if it's the best.
    – hobbs
    Dec 19 '20 at 20:48
  • 2
    @K-HB I'm also somewhat surprised (as a fellow German); but it is worth mentioning that in the U.S. you can use your private mailbox to send letters as well: "Letter carriers can pick up mail as they make their deliveries if the flag is up.". Private mail boxes have a "flag" indicating that there is mail in there, in both directions, incoming and outgoing, to the customer and the postman alike. So a private mailbox serves as a drop-box as well and is a more integrated and hence regulated part of the postal service. Dec 20 '20 at 13:38
7

Yes, under US law (18 USC 1725) you may place misdirected mail in the mailbox of the person to whom it is addressed. You may also just knock on that person's door and hand it to the addressee.

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  • 4
    ...unless you follow the Covid distance orders, then you need to leave it on the porch and step back.
    – Trish
    Dec 19 '20 at 9:18
  • 5
    do you have a source for that?
    – JCRM
    Dec 19 '20 at 10:21
  • 9
    @JCRM OP just consulted Common Sense Law.
    – CodeAngry
    Dec 19 '20 at 15:52
  • 2
    If the answer says "under US law", it would be good to quote or reference the specific law involved.
    – BowlOfRed
    Dec 20 '20 at 22:11

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