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What to do when complaints about identity theft go unheard by Robert Griswold

FailQ: I live in a 500-unit apartment community comprised of nearly 20 buildings. My problem is that the mailboxes to the individual units are not secure. The mailboxes are centrally located in each building, with four rows of six mailboxes in a single “bank” per building.

Shortly after moving in I inadvertently started to open the wrong mailbox and discovered that my mailbox key worked on someone else’s mailbox. A little more research led me to realize that my mailbox key works on each and every one of these 24 mailboxes! After talking to my neighbor across the way, I have learned that any mailbox key will work on all of the mailboxes. I found that my key even works on the mailboxes at other buildings!

In addition, the boxes will not stay closed if more than the usual amount of mail is placed in them. Often when a magazine or other large item is placed in them, they literally pop open, causing mail to fall on the ground and blow around the courtyard.

I think this is a very serious matter and so I immediately sent a note to the on-site manager. The first time I wrote, I received a response saying that the locks would be replaced immediately. When several weeks had passed and nothing was done, I wrote another letter but this time to the corporate office of the property management company.

That was more than three weeks ago, and nothing has been done about the problem and I haven’t even received a response. The on-site manager says it is out of his hands.

Next, I contacted my local letter carrier and was told that she has been delivering mail to this complex for two years and has made many complaints to the property management about the condition of the mailboxes. She told them that the locks are rusted out and need to be replaced.

What recourse do I have as a tenant? My main concern, of course, is identity theft. Does management have a responsibility to provide tenants with secure mailboxes?

A: The secure delivery of mail is a fundamental right of tenants. The landlord must comply with all U.S. Postal Service regulations, and it is appalling that apparently every mailbox key can open all of the mailboxes in your rental community. I suggest you immediately go to your nearest post office and make a formal complaint with the local postmaster.

While the letter carrier should be able to resolve this issue, she apparently has not had success so far. It is also surprising that your on-site manager or property management firm did not quickly handle this serious complaint. It is hard to imagine that they do not realize the tremendous liability that exists until this problem is resolved. It seems unlikely that they wouldn’t realize that the mailboxes were commonly keyed, but even giving them the benefit of the doubt, immediate action is required by the property manager.

The Postal Service in most areas is very diligent about insisting that landlords properly maintain the integrity of the mailboxes and can even require them to replace old mailboxes with completely new mailboxes. I have heard some landlords complain that parts are not available for older mailboxes, but that is generally just an excuse. That is especially true for mailbox locks, which are easy to buy and very simple to install. Nonetheless, even if they have some rare out-of-production mailbox locks, the landlord cannot allow the unacceptable conditions to exist and must take immediate steps to install new mailboxes that are secure.

The Postal Service can refuse to deliver mail and require the tenants to pick up their mail at the local post office. That would certainly get the attention of the tenants who would demand the landlord take the appropriate action to either properly repair and secure the existing mailboxes or install new mailboxes.

Note that one potential advantage of repairing the existing mailboxes may be that the Postal Service will continue to offer mail delivery to each building. In all new buildings and often when the mailboxes are replaced, the U.S. Postal Service regulations require more centralized mailboxes to improve efficiency and cut down on the cost of mail delivery.

So it is possible that you could find that you have to go a lot further to pick up your mail. Either way, I am sure you would just be happy to know that your mail is securely delivered!

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and “Property Management Kit for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies.”

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at [email protected]. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

Copyright 2009 Inman News
See Paul Bianchina’s feature, Partial Rent Payments Spell Trouble.

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  • This article is very helpful. If you are a landlord or a tenant now you know how to handle this situation. The postmaster stopping delivery and the tenants having to pickup thier mail at the PO until the situation is resolved SHOULD get the owner moving.
    If not then a class action lawsuit including ALL the tenants might do the trick.

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