Got Cluster Mailboxes? Here’s What You Need to Know

by Hank Coleman

Receive your mail at a cluster mailbox, you soon could be. Door-to-door mail delivery is likely coming to an end in the United States. If you don’t already receive your mail at a cluster mailbox, you soon could be. These centralized, communal mail boxes that serve entire subdivisions, streets, or neighborhoods are already familiar to many apartment dwellers, who have long been accustomed to picking up their mail from a box in their building’s lobby. If you live in a subdivision built since the 1980s, you may also be familiar with cluster boxes, since the USPS stopped allowing to-the-door delivery for new homes in that decade.

Door-to-door delivery is the USPS’s biggest fixed cost, and these days, only 28 percent of Americans still receive mail delivered to their door. The rest have curbside boxes or the new cluster boxes. If you’re just starting to use cluster mailboxes for the first time, you might have some questions and concerns. You might wonder how safe the boxes are, how to receive packages and send mail, and what to do about winter weather that could hamper your access to the boxes. You can rest assured that cluster mailboxes are secure and easy to use, even in winter weather.

Cluster Mailboxes Are Safe

Security is one of the primary concerns people have about making the switch to cluster mailboxes. Will your mail be as safe in a cluster mailbox as it is in your own curbside or front porch box? The short answer is yes, it will. For the most part, using a cluster mailbox is even safer than using a curbside mailbox, which has no lock and is far more vulnerable to thieves and vandals. It’s also safer than having your mail deposited in a front door box.

That’s because these boxes are kept locked at all times. Each resident has their own keys to their own box. The postal carrier will have either a master key that opens all the boxes, or will be able to access all of the boxes at once by opening up the entire front or back of the cluster box. Cluster mailboxes protect you from mail and identity theft. If you’re worried about safety, check your mailbox every day, and have the post office hold your mail if you’re going out of town.

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Receiving Packages and Sending Mail Are Easy

You might wonder how you’ll manage to receive larger packages at your small compartment in a cluster mailbox. Your cluster mailbox will have a package box large enough to accommodate most parcels. If you receive a package, the postal carrier will leave a key for this box in your individual mailbox, allowing you to open the package compartment and retrieve your package. You can then leave the key in the package compartment for the postal carrier to retrieve when he or she returns.

You can also send outgoing mail from a cluster mailbox. There may be a special slot or compartment or outgoing mail, or you may place it in your individual mailbox. You can also send outgoing mail by dropping it into any public mail receptacle, sending it from your place of employment, or dropping it off at your local Post Office.

Using Cluster Mailboxes in Winter Weather

In severe winter weather, the USPS recommends clearing snow and ice from in from of your mailbox, whether it’s a curbside box, a front door box, or a cluster box. The advantage of using a cluster mailbox is that you can share the responsibility of keeping the mailbox clear in the winter with your neighbors.

You probably already carry a shovel and a small bag of salt in the trunk of your car during the winter, so you can use these items to clear a path to your cluster mailbox. Many users of cluster mailboxes say that they never have to do this, however, because the area is usually already cleared by the time they arrive. Most customers don’t have a problem with ice in the locks, but on the rare occasion that ice makes a lock difficult to open, a can of lock deicer should be sufficient to fix it.

Switching from curbside or to-the-door delivery to getting your mail at a cluster mailbox is a big change, but it’s one that could help the USPS continue to afford to deliver mail cheaply to every U.S. household and business, no matter how remote. Cluster mailboxes are safe, secure, and easy to use. Soon, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without them.

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About Hank Coleman

Hank Coleman is the founder of Money Q&A, an Iraq combat veteran, a Dr. Pepper addict, and a self-proclaimed investing junkie. He has written extensively for many nationally known financial websites and publications. Hank holds a Master’s Degree in Finance and a graduate certificate in personal financial planning. Email him directly at Hank[at]MoneyQandA.com.


Hank Coleman has written 578 articles on Money Q&A. Learn more about Money Q&A on Twitter @MoneyQandA and @HankColeman.


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Barb Sauder

How do I send a small box from my cluster mail box. I live in a trailer park and have cluster mailboxes. I need to send a small box in the mail and can’t get to the Post Office because of health reasons. How do I do this?

Reply

Hank Coleman

You should look into printing off the postage at home and then meeting the mail carrier at your cluster box when he or she make the deliveries.

Reply

Dave Long

When the cluster boxes were first “suggested” to the various communities, the USPS was to maintain then in an acceptable order. Are they responsible for maintenance and replacement?

Reply

Hank Coleman

According to postal regulations, the customer owns the mailbox and is responsible for its repair or replacement. Sometimes a postmaster will approve repairs on a particular cluster mailbox, but it is a courtesy and the USPS is under no obligation to maintain them. Even if the postal service initially installed the cluster mailboxes, they are responsible for maintaining them, the homeowner or apartment complex owners are responsible.

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Laurie Parker

My apt community uses cluster mailboxes and recently they have hung a sign saying mail MUST BE picked up daily or it goes back to the post office and held for 10 days. Is it legal to say u must empty and check ur mailbox every single day? Bit ridiculous if u ask me. I like checking mine every 3-5 days. I can’t find the laws in this to tell them they’re being crazy. Sometimes jus can’t get the cluster box every single day. Any answers?

Reply

Hank Coleman

You should ask the postmaster at your local post office that services your cluster mailbox for specific details. While your apartment complex owns the cluster mailboxes, the USPS should be the ones placing the mail into the boxes. You can also send your question or complaint to the US Postal Inspection Service https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/

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