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

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. But, who is responsible for cluster mailboxes?

These centralized, communal mailboxes 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.

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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. But, who is responsible for cluster mailboxes?

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.

Who is responsible for cluster mailboxes?

Multiple vendors who service homeowners associations, apartment communities, and condos say that the property manager/owner of the community is ultimately responsible. Many people think that the United States Postal Service is responsible for maintaining these mailboxes, but that’s not true. If something goes wrong with the unit it is up to the property manager/owner to fix the problem.

You may not think there is much to know about the boxes in front of your apartment. Whether you live at an apartment complex or condo, chances are your mailbox unit is privately owned by the HOA or a private company that leases out your individual box.

The box itself may be attached to a metal post, a wooden post, or the wall of your building. In some cases, it’s possible to take ownership of the box when you move in. The United States Postal Service is responsible for the mail that comes through your box, not for the mailbox itself.

Many people think that when they move into an apartment or condo community with a mailbox unit in front of their building they automatically become owners of the individual boxes in their cluster. Not true!

When residents sign a lease it usually includes language specifying which type of mailboxes are provided and what amenities each HOA owns/leases/manages for its residents.

Who is responsible for cluster mailboxes? If you are not given ownership of your mailboxes, the tenant is considered a licensee. This means that the property manager/owner has full control over everything attached to or associated with the cluster boxes including their appearance and maintenance.

A mailbox unit can become damaged by vandalism or natural elements like wind, rain, or ice. If your box looks rundown, it says something about the quality of your home community. It also raises safety concerns if people think these boxes could be used for nefarious purposes.

It’s up to each individual HOA to determine how these units are maintained and repaired. Tenants/residents should never attempt to repair or maintain a mailbox unit themselves, as this could result in a lawsuit if the HOA finds out someone has damaged the boxes.

The best thing you can do for your property is to be proactive about getting more information on maintaining cluster mailboxes. If you’re not given ownership at move-in, then reach out to your property manager/owner asking for clarification on what’s required of residents when it comes to maintenance and repairs.

If nothing else, this conversation will open up dialogue between you and your property manager/owner so that you know exactly who is responsible for these boxes in front of your building. You’ll also find out what kind of schedule is expected when it comes to repairs and maintenance.

18 thoughts on “Got Cluster Mailboxes? Who’s Responsible? Here’s What You Need to Know”

  1. 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?

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    • 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.

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    • If you buy postage online you can request a pickup, then leave it on the porch.

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  2. 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?

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    • 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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      • Hank, I find most of your respones 100% accurate but for cluster mailboxes, it is split. If it was installed by USPS they own it. If it was installed by Federal Law by the HOA, the HOA owns it and is responsible for maintenance but USPS Federal law controls the size, installation requirements and maintenance.

        I am a BOD President and it is a fight to get USPS repair a CBU installed before 2000. Very sad that they cannot or do not want to maintain, yet customer cannot.

        After all it is the Federal Government who pays $450 for a toilet seat.

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  3. 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
    • 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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  4. What do I do with the keys when I move? Can I put them in the outgoing mail box or do I have to take them back to the Post Office?

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  5. Can i provide my own mailbox and opt out of using clustered mailboxes. Single family home.

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    • I have the same question – 6 single family home (acre+ each) cul-de-sac with 30+ year old rotting hulk of a cluster box at the far end (not the near end or entrance) of the road. I somehow get that the USPS negotiates with developers, but all that took place while I was in high school 30 years ago. Now there are rusty/rot holes/bees and keys/hinges that don’t quite work as smoothly as when it was new.

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  6. My cluster mailbox is 3 blocks away. Tell me why this should make me happy.

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  7. I accidentally left 1 of our 2 keys in my slot at our cluster mail box. Im concerned out the security of my mail to who ever has that key. What do you recommend?

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  8. I am now cancelling delivery of any Amazon order coming USPS because most are lg boxes and they leave a note.
    Being disabled I can’t go get them at the PO.

    I hate cluster mailboxes.
    Ours is so far I have to drive to the mail house to get it. It is 6 streets away.

    Reply
  9. We have cluster mailboxes in a retirement neighborhood. Our door is broken and badly bent, the post office said we have to deal with it that it’s our responsibility. How do we go about getting a new door for it? Nobody seems to know where we’ll be living.

    Reply
  10. I live in a 55+ gated community with an outdoor cluster mailbox. Our problem is, no ramp to that mailbox cluster. This is not ADA compliant. Whose responsibility is it to put in the ramp? Is it USPS or the builder?

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  11. In my city, most communities including my have these cluster mailboxes. Mail thieves perpetually have access to the master keys, and we typically see these boxes wide open with all mail and packages gone. Mine was hit again last night, with the crooks making off with an Amazon package and possibly an envelop with new credit cards that we’re expecting. USPS takes zero responsibility for their constant failure to control the master keys. These cluster boxes are an inconvenience for the user that makes life easier for USPS – shouldn’t they at least bear responsibility for safeguarding the master keys?

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  12. I live at a 55 condo association. I think we own our cluster mailboxes because we have an employee delivering the mail to our boxes after its dropped by the usps employee to our postal building
    The condo manager at certain circumstances does not allow the employee to put mail in our boxes the day its delivered making for late delivery to us. So occassionally mail order medications come late.
    Is there a regulation about interference of mail delivery?

    Reply

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