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Postal Service Stamps Out Mailbox Misuse at Mobile Homes

Edict: Officials halt use of boxes for notes, rent statements and other messages, sans postage.

January 03, 2002|JERRY HICKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than 25 years, the residents of the Orange Crest Mobile Home Park in Orange had a handy way of communicating with each other: their mailboxes. Things such as personal notes, monthly newsletters, bridge notices, greeting cards, clubroom party announcements, sympathy cards. Management even used the mailbox for monthly rent statements.

No more. The U.S. Postal Service is on to them and has put a stop to the practice.

Since the edict came down six weeks ago, the tightknit community has been a bit riled. A resident apparently had complained to the local post office about all the mailbox items without stamps. Postal authorities immediately called park management.

"It's ridiculous," said Thelma Rinker, who has lived in the neatly kept, walled community of 89 units almost since it opened in 1975. "But if the government says 'jump,' I guess you jump."

But instead of jumping, Rinker spent $30 on a second mailbox for neighborhood correspondence and placed it below her regular one. Nearly half of the residents did likewise.

But not Robert E. Davis, who has lived there 25 years.

"I'm just too stubborn," said Davis, 77, a retired newspaperman. He's the unofficial ombudsman for the park, made up mostly of senior citizens.

Instead, Davis has started a letter-writing campaign to get the postal orders changed. To his dismay, he's learning that he probably won't win.

It happens to be an issue the U.S. Postal Service has strong feelings about. It falls under U.S. Code, Section 1725. And in more specific language, Domestic Mail Manual D041-1.3 says, "No part of a mail receptacle may be used to deliver any matter not bearing postage."

Linda Dalton, consumer affairs manager for the Postal Service, wrote to Davis that she hoped the majority would agree that the statute and the postal regulations "further the public interest."

The problem dates from the early 1930s, when utility companies delivered their bills by mailbox through their own employees out reading meters. The Postal Service saw a huge drop in revenue and decided to act. Enforcement became even more important in 1970, Dalton wrote, when Congress mandated that the Postal Service be self-sustaining.

"We recognize that, from time to time, the regulations may cause owners of mailboxes to become irritated," Dalton said. "I apologize that this is inconvenient, but it must be uniformly enforced."

To which Davis replied by mail: "Phooey."

"It isn't our job to produce revenue for the Postal Service," Davis said. He has since written to several members of Congress, but none has responded.

The issue has come up many times before, said Terri Bouffiou, the Postal Service's Southern California spokeswoman.

"We have Realtors who like to flood local mailboxes with the news that they've sold a home in the neighborhood, a little free advertising without paying postage," she said. "Or the Avon lady dropping off mailbox notices that she'll soon be in the neighborhood.

"We just can't have people putting their hands in other people's mailboxes, because there's a flip side to that. They could be taking something out."

Postal inspectors are kept busy investigating cases in which scam artists have gleaned personal information about residents by stealing from their mailboxes, Bouffiou said. Thefts of Social Security checks from mailboxes are common too.

"We don't live in a simple world anymore," she said.

However, Bouffiou offers a compromise to the mobile home park: Go ahead and use the mailboxes for your rent notices, or monthly newsletters: Just put the proper postage on it, as if you'd gone through the post office.

The Postal Service doesn't plan to sue anyone unless it gets word of repeat offenders. Bouffiou said she expects the mobile home park residents to abide by its new notice on the honor system. Even though they're unhappy, they're dutifully doing that.

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