HOUSTON – Millions of Americans collect their mail from cluster mailboxes. These are multiple boxes installed in one spot in an apartment complex or neighborhood to make delivery and pick-up convenient for both the mail carriers and the customers. But what happens when they’re broken? One community is learning it’s not always a simple fix. The KPRC 2 Investigates team looks into who foots the bill.
Cluster mailbox left damaged
Cluster mailboxes are damaged through normal wear and tear or if they’re vandalized. Neighbors in some communities say the United States Postal Service (USPS) previously repaired or replaced them. Now it seems USPS is passing that burden on to customers, but with little direction. Some might say, it’s a real cluster.
For 35 years, Mark and Cindy Kochan picked up their mail from the community mailbox at the end of their block in the South Meadow subdivision in Stafford. That stopped at the end of July.
“It had a lot of rust on the base,” said Cindy about the cluster mailbox that rusted and toppled over.
In the past, the Kochan’s cluster mailbox was replaced by the US postal service when damaged.
“And we’ve been here 35 years and it’s been replaced a couple of times before with no questions asked,” said Mark.
But not this time. Now Cindy and Mark are driving to the Stafford post office every two to three days and waiting in line to pick up their mail.
Post Office says they won’t fix the problem
After several weeks and with no information about when their box would be replaced, Mark sent an email on the USPS website. He got a letter in response.
In part, the letter reads: “...purchase, installation, maintenance, repair, and replacement of mail receptacles are the responsibility of the customer.”
“They tell you, this is all the stuff that you have to do to get your box replaced. But it doesn’t say how and how much or any details to do it,” said Mark.
The Kochan’s don’t have an HOA, but when neighborhoods do, the postal service says they should pay for the boxes.
In July, KPRC 2 News interviewed a man in Katy going through the same run around.
“When I talked to the post office, they expressed that the HOA would replace the mailbox, but he said that the post office is supposed to,” said Mark back in July. “It just seems like everybody’s wanting to pass the buck.”
And it’s a lot of bucks to pass. We discovered the Kochan’s cluster box costs $1,475 from the postal service. Efforts to coordinate with neighbors to split the costs have been difficult since they don’t even know who shares the mailbox.
“To me, the post office should be reaching out to us if it’s our responsibility to pay for it,” said Cindy.
Officially USPS would not admit that it has replaced the cluster box units in the past. USPS sent us a link to the postal service rules about the type of boxes the agency requires and where you can buy them.
Below are some common questions and answers customers have about cluster mailboxes.
What is a cluster mailbox?
A cluster mailbox is a centralized unit of individually locked compartments for the delivery and collection of mail. USPS also refers to this as a Cluster Box Unit (CBU) or community mailboxes.
The postal service says using a CBU saves on fuel and reduces carbon emission because carriers can deliver mail to multiple customers during a single stop with less truck idle time. A cluster mailbox is typically used for parcel and package deliveries.
Who is responsible for cluster mailboxes?
When a cluster mailbox is broken or there is a problem the question about who is responsible for the mailbox usually comes up. USPS says the property owners, builders, or developers are responsible for cluster mailboxes. This means if the CBU is broken or damaged the property owner is responsible for fixing it. This could mean the Homeowners Association takes charge or property owners can appoint a manager to ensure the mailbox meets postal service regulations.
Who do I call about a cluster mailbox issue?
USPS says you should contact your local post office before putting up, moving, or replacing a CBU.
If your community’s cluster mailbox is broken or missing and you need a new one, you can call (713) 226-3608 or email HoustonGrowthManagement@usps.gov.
You can buy a cluster mailbox directly from the USPS or order one from a USPS-approved manufacturer here https://about.usps.com/postal-bulletin/2007/html/pb22206/mailboxkit.4.16.html. You can read more about cluster mailbox regulations and rules from the USPS here.
Official statement from the USPS about Cluster Mailbox Units
The Postal Service remains committed to providing world-class postal services to the American public. Safeguarding the security and sanctity of the mail is of paramount importance. This includes ensuring mail receptacles are secured, safe, and in good condition at all times. Appropriate mail receptacles must be provided for the receipt of mail, including in locations with approved centralized delivery, which utilize Cluster Box Units (CBU). Postal Service regulations specify that the purchase, installation, maintenance, repair, and replacement of mail receptacles are the responsibility of the customer. The Postal Service will only provide mail delivery services to postal-approved receptacles for the approved, established mode of delivery including to existing CBU equipment. In this instance, local postal officials are aware of the need for the customers to replace their damaged or out-of-date CBU equipment and we continue working with them and their HOA representatives, providing contact information of approved vendors available to assist with their purchase and installation of new CBU equipment. We appreciate the opportunity to continue working with our customers and providing prompt, efficient mail delivery services. Customers are reminded that, if they need assistance with mailing or shipping concerns, there are a variety of options for contacting the Postal Service, including their local Post Office by calling 1-800-ASK-USPS (1-800-275-8777) or visiting our website at www.usps.com/help .