While the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) says it’s not unusual for an address to not get mail every day, sometimes an empty mailbox is a problem. We’ve all gone to get the mail expecting a long-awaited letter or package only to return disappointed. The Postal Service has faced backlash in recent months for late deliveries, largely brought on by impacts of the COVID pandemic, staffing shortages, and increased mail volumes. But in some cases, your mail might not be delivered for reasons outside of USPS delays. In fact, you may actually be impeding the Postal Service from delivering. Read on to find out the five most common reasons your mail isn’t showing up.
If your mailbox is empty, it could be because something’s blocking it. According to the USPS, a blocked mailbox will prevent delivery. “Customers are required, as a condition of delivery, to ensure that proper access is provided to mail receptacles,” the Postal Service states on its website. “Without such access, the safety of the carrier is jeopardized.”
Even a car parked in the wrong place could get you skipped on your mail carrier’s delivery route. “According to our policy, the city or rural carrier should get out of the vehicle to make delivery if the mailbox is temporarily blocked by a vehicle,” the agency explains. “However, if the carrier continually experiences a problem in serving curb line or rural boxes where the customer is able to control on street parking, the postmaster may withdraw delivery service.”
You might know your dog is a love bug, but that doesn’t mean your mail carrier does. While the presence of dogs at an address doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get your mail, it’s often a factor that ends up obstructing delivery. According to the USPS, “owners must confine their dogs during delivery hours,” as a loose dog could be viewed as an immediate threat to postal workers.
And this might mean more than just a day or two of an empty mailbox. “Delivery service may be temporarily withdrawn when animals interfere with our ability to complete mail delivery,” the Postal Service warns, noting that owners will be “notified promptly” if their service has been suspended because of a dog or other loose animal on the premises.
“Mail delivery will resume as soon as the Postal Service is confident the animal is no longer a threat,” the USPS states on its website. “Loose dogs can affect mail delivery for multiple addresses and an entire neighborhood.”
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” might be the Postal Service creed, but there are limits! Hazardous conditions or natural disasters could result in an empty mailbox as well. According to the USPS, delivery serviced “may be delayed or curtailed” whenever streets or walkways are dangerous for carriers or their vehicles. “The Postal Service curtails delivery only after careful consideration, and only as a last resort,” the agency says, noting that it releases service alerts to provide consumers info about postal disruptions due to natural disasters or other hazardous concerns.
This may include snow in the winter. But if the USPS is delivering mail to your surrounding neighbors and not to you after a snowstorm, it could be personal: There might not be proper access to your box under the agency’s blocked mailbox stipulation. “Proper access” includes removing all the snow that’s accumulated in the area in front of your curbside mailbox or from sidewalks leading up to any house-mounted boxes, according to the Postal Service.
If you can’t shovel all the snow away and your mail can’t be delivered, you can try one of the alternatives the USPS has provided. You can “arrange with a neighbor to receive your mail, put up a suitable temporary mail box, meet the carrier at your box, or pick up your mail at your local post office location.”
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Don’t let your mailbox overflow and expect your mail carrier to just keep piling new mail inside. Instead, you might end up finding your box completely empty one day—except for a form from the USPS. “If a mail receptacle is deemed by the letter carrier to be full, the letter carrier will leave a ‘We ReDeliver for You’ form (PS Form 3849) in that receptacle and return the overflow mail to the local Post Office location for pickup,” the Postal Service explains on its website.
Your local post office will hold your mail for up to 10 days, but it will be returned to the senders if you have not picked it up or scheduled a redelivery after this timeframe. To pick it up from the office, you’ll need to bring a photo ID. And if you’re scheduling a redelivery, someone must be at home when they bring your mail back.
Do you live out in the sticks? There needs to be a safe way to get there, or your mail won’t show up. According to the Postal Service’s laws and regulations, “impassable roads, bad condition of roads, unsafe bridges, dangerous fords, or other obstructions” that impede travel are all grounds for a worker to refuse delivery service.
And yes, this mail delay can also be permanent. “Persons responsible for road maintenance must be notified of road conditions obstructing the delivery of mail. If repairs are not made promptly, service may be withdrawn,” the USPS says.
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