LANCASTER – Mailboxes shouldn’t be hard to figure out – that is, until somebody starts breaking into them or busting them up. And if the mail receptacle happens to be a centralized box unit away from your property, postal customers should not expect the U.S. Postal Service to pick up the tab.
This is currently the situation with 12 postal customers in West Lancaster who are seeking more answers than what the local postmaster is willing to provide.
Lancaster Postmaster Raymond Bryant has asked the 12 residents to sign an agreement before the Postal Service will replace their centralized mail unit (located on Avenue L-8 near 73rd Street West), which was vandalized on April 14.
But residents are upset with the terms outlined in the May 5 letter, which states the Postal Service “may replace this box unit with the condition that future repairs and replacement of the centralized box unit will be the responsibility of the property owner.”
Lancaster resident Cathy Eichner, who has been driving 10-12 miles to pick up her mail at the post office for the last six weeks, said she’s just about given up on the Post Office and have decided to take care of all her bills online.
“If any other kind of vandalism happens to the box, then we’re responsible for replacing it again – all of us equally,” Eichner told The AV Times. “I mean, who wants to put out $3,000 for a mailbox?”
Eichner said the problem with being responsible for the cluster box, which has been vandalized before, is that some residents, like herself, live two or more blocks from the unit and are unable to watch the box or provide any security for it.
If the Post Office doesn’t receive “all signatures” for the box – and if the box is unable to be repaired by postal officials – then “customers may be required to rent a P.O. box for future mail delivery,” according to the May 5 letter.
“Hypothetically speaking, if only 11 of us signed it, and one did not, we would still have to all get P.O. boxes,” postal customer Tina Hormis said. “So where is the fairness in that?”
In addition, residents were told by the Post Office that if they do not obtain a P.O. box by June 1 to forward their mail, then their mail would be returned to the sender, according to Hormis.
“If it were my own box, then it would be up to me to maintain, but this is USPS issued,” Hormis said, explaining that the U.S. Postal Service owns and maintains the centralized box unit.
Not so, according to Richard Maher, spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service in Los Angeles County.
“The Postal Service does not own customers’ mailboxes, whether they are on a post at the curb or centralized box or attached to their house next to their front door,” Maher told The AV Times. “They are all owned by the customers.”
He explained that the Lancaster residents’ centralized box had been vandalized to the point where the Postal Service could not securely deliver the mail, and “we offered to them, as a sign of goodwill to get their mail service back, replacing this box at our own expense, even though it’s not our own responsibility,” Maher said. “But we wanted them to sign an agreement stating that they understood that we do not own this mailbox and we’re not responsible for it – but that they are as customers.”
Maher said that the agreement the Lancaster Post Office is asking residents to sign is to prevent the expectation that the Postal Service must perform maintenance on the box and will continue replacing it in the future.
“The Postal Service is trying to mitigate this situation for the neighborhood by supplying this new centralized box at our expense so that they can get their mail – but we do not want to establish a precedent that we are responsible for customers’ mail boxes,” he said. “We just want them to understand that this is a gift, and we’re giving it to them – but it’s their box to maintain.”
He also explained that builders or developers typically install mailboxes for homes and properties, not the Post Office, emphasizing that “we do not sell mail boxes, and we don’t provide them.”
However, Hormis still questions the supposed policy of a homeowner’s obligation to provide and maintain their own mailbox.
“If this is the case, then we would have needed to be informed when we purchased the home that we are now responsible (for the cluster box), and not the original builder,” she said. “It confuses me also that on the back of the cluster box it states that it’s the property of the United States Postal Service. Well, if we purchased it and paid for it, and are maintaining it, then perhaps it should say it is the property of Twilight Ridge residents.”
The residents refuse to give up on more satisfying answers to their cluster box dilemma. Hormis said she will next consult with local realtors as part of her ongoing research, while Eichner said she has already contacted Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s office to help resolve the mailbox issue for residents.