Are Mailboxes Private Or Federal Property? (Explained)

Although your mailbox might be on your front door or at the edge of your lawn, it isn’t your personal property.

You might have picked out the mailbox yourself, paid for it, and brought it home, but it becomes government property as soon as it is installed and ready to be used.

Here’s Why Mailboxes Aren’t Your Private Property:

Mailboxes are considered federal property. Once you install your mailbox and it is ready for use, it officially becomes owned by the U.S. government. If you are a victim of any mail-related crimes, you are protected by federal law and its serious fines and possible jail time.

Is Touching Someone’s Mailbox a Federal Offense?

Mailboxes are specifically designated as federal property to protect homeowners in the case of mail-related crimes.

Tampering with a mailbox in any way is considered tampering with federal property. Even opening someone’s mailbox and looking inside is considered a federal crime.

If you become a victim of any mail-related crimes, you are protected by federal law. Tampering with mail, stealing mail, and vandalizing mailboxes are all considered serious federal crimes and come with hefty punishments.

If you commit any of these crimes, you can be charged up to 250,000 dollars per offense and face up to three years in jail.

If a single crime contains several counts of theft, vandalizing, or tampering, the fine and potential jail time can be applied to each count. This can add up very quickly for the perpetrator if they tampered with more than one piece of mail in a single mailbox.

If you suspect tampering with your mailbox, you will want to contact the United States Postal Service and police right away.

The USPS has a few helpful suggestions to prevent any mail-related crimes from happening to you.

Let’s take a look at what you can do:

Remove your Mail Daily:

Take your mail out of the box as soon as you can once it has been delivered.

This is extra important on days when you are expecting your mail to have sensitive information.

Thieves often look for mail that can help them commit identity theft.

Avoid Leaving any Mail Overnight:

Even if you’ve had a busy day, make sure you empty your mailbox before going to sleep.

When it gets dark, it might be easier and more tempting for potential thieves to empty the contents of your mailbox.

Put a Hold on your Mail:

If you are planning a trip out of town, remember that you can put a hold on your mail at your local post office.

They will stop delivering mail during the days you are out of town.

Ask a Neighbor to Empty your Box:

You could also ask a trusted neighbor to pick up the mail during the time that you’re away.

Avoid leaving town for an extended period of time without a plan to keep up with mail delivery.

Is Opening a USPS Drop Box a Federal Offense?

Just like your own mailbox, USPS drop boxes are also considered federal property.

You might know these by their signature large, blue appearance on your neighborhood streets. You might also see these drop boxes outside your local USPS branch or in the center of town. 

These drop boxes are designed to make it easier to drop off letters and packages while you are out and about in the neighborhood.

If you commit any crime against the box or its contents, you will be breaking federal law and can be tried accordingly.

You can open a drop box as it is intended if you have something to mail. However, if you open it in any other way or commit any tampering or vandalism, you will have potentially damaged federal property.

This is a federal offense and can be tried as such.

Is Your Mailbox Your Private Property?

When you are shopping for your mailbox, it is considered your private property.

When you pay for it, it is also your private property. When you bring it home from the store, it is still private property.

However, that is the end of its life as your private property. As soon as it is installed and ready to receive mail, it ceases to be anyone’s private property.

From this moment on, it is the property of the federal government and is subject to its laws.

Can You Remove Your Own Mailbox?

There is no legal requirement stating that you must have a mailbox.

If you choose to remove your current mailbox for whatever reason, you won’t be breaking any federal laws.

If you were to do this, you will be marked as “no mail receptacle” or NMR in the USPS system. When they give you this designation, any and all mail addressed to you will be returned to the sender. 

Once you make the decision to remove your mailbox, every single piece of mail will be returned to the sender. There are no exceptions to this once you have labeled NMR.

You won’t be able to receive any important documents that might cause trouble if you don’t respond or act in a timely way.

For example, if you miss urgent bills, notices from the IRS, or other branches of the government, you might find yourself incurring fines or facing legal trouble.

Still, it is your choice if you wish to remove your mailbox. You won’t directly be breaking any laws if you choose to remove your mailbox from your property.

Can You Build Your Own Mailbox?

If you want to build your own mailbox, you will need to make sure it adheres to the USPS rules and regulations.

If you want to purchase a mailbox, you can just look for the Postmaster General’s seal on the model you wish to purchase. According to federal regulations, this seal guarantees that the mailbox is both the right size and design.

If you want to build your own mailbox, you will need to design and construct one that will meet federal regulations.

This includes the design and size and other factors, such as the display of numbers on the side.

The address numbers must be at least one inch tall and easy to read. If your mailbox is directly on your street, it’s okay to have the numbers printed with nothing else.

If your mailbox is on a different street from your actual house, you will need the full address printed clearly on your custom mailbox. 

Different mailbox styles will have different restrictions, and it’s important to contact the USPS directly for the latest set of dimensions and regulations.

A mailbox mounted on your front door will have different requirements than a mailbox on a post. Speak with your local postmaster for more information.

To get an informational overview, you can check out this summary of mailbox regulations here on YouTube:

Final Thoughts:

Mailboxes are considered property of the federal government, not the homeowner’s private property.

This status protects the mailboxes and their contents from potential theft, tampering, or vandalism. Mail-related crimes carry serious federal punishments, including hefty fines and potential jail time.

Because your mailbox belongs to the government, you must comply with certain dimensional and design restrictions.

However, you can rest assured that the federal justice system protects you if any crime involving your mailbox or its contents were to be committed.


Forsite: Are Mailboxes Considered Federal Property?

Johnny Holland: Is It Illegal to Put Something In A Mailbox?

United States Postal Inspection Service: Mailbox Vandalism