After you move into a new house, the excitement might wear off when you realize you do not have a mailbox at the end of the driveway. In this case, the residence likely has cluster mailboxes. So, how do you get the key to access your mail? We’ve looked into the topic and found some information for you.
Now that you are in a new house, you need a way to get your mail from the cluster mailboxes. Simply follow these steps to get your keys:
- Find out who is responsible for the keys -- the owner, property manager, or the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).
- Request the keys from the appropriate source.
- Make copies of the keys.
- Store the keys in a safe place.
Those steps may seem a little involved, but they get easier the more you know about them. If you are still wondering about cluster mailboxes and their keys, then keep reading to find out more.
What are cluster mailboxes?
Have you ever been stuck behind the mail person driving and stopping every 100 to 200 feet? It’s rather inconvenient, and for all parties involved. But there is a better way to store mail—cluster mailboxes.
In 1967, the USPS established cluster mailboxes. Also called cluster box units or community mailboxes, cluster mailboxes are centralized, metal units that hold mail for multiple residents. Generally, the boxes can hold eight or more individual units. With this delivery system, the mail person can stop in one central location to deliver mail to multiple community members at one time.
Clearly, using cluster mailboxes saves on gas, time, and money. If the mail person only stops at one location, then he or she is not spreading exhaust fumes throughout the community.
How many keys does the post office give you?
For private establishments, the owner or property manager provides the keys for cluster mailboxes. However, for postal-owned cluster mailboxes, the USPS is responsible for providing the keys.
Typically, the USPS will give the resident three keys to his or her cluster mailbox. For new residents, the first time the USPS provides keys is free. But it costs money to replace them. If you lose the keys, the USPS will have to change the lock and provide a new set of keys because they have no way of opening the individual unit. This charge may vary.
Although the USPS will not provide you with duplicates, you are allowed to make copies of the keys on your own. And you should do this! Thankfully, you do not need a locksmith for this because house keys are not specialized keys like for cars. Many department stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, can make you one or more copies. And each copy usually only costs $1 to $3.
However, privately owned establishments may have different rules. Pay attention if the key says not to duplicate. If it's unclear, then simply ask the owner.
What do I do with my mailbox key when I move?
After you move in, first, you should make copies of the cluster mailbox keys. Then, keep the spare keys in a safe place. But don't place them under obvious structures, like a rock or a rug. This just isn't secure!
Instead, put the keys in a lockbox. You don't necessarily have to hide the lockbox in a secret place. You might forget where it's located! Choose a familiar place. For example, you can store the lockbox in a kitchen drawer.
Generally, you don't want to use a key to open up a box of keys. Try a coded lockbox instead. This one has a four-digit passcode. Click here to see it on Amazon.
Alternatively, you can store the keys in a cabinet designed to store multiple keys, like the one above. You might need this if you're running a business and have several keys to carry around. This cabinet also has a four-digit passcode. Click here to see it on Amazon.
By the way, make sure to use key tags if you're keeping tabs on multiple keys. It can be confusing if you have 10 different keys! Above you'll see brightly colored, easily differentiated key tags. Click here to see them on Amazon.
Is the HOA responsible for mailboxes?
Over time, the cluster mailboxes may need repair and maintenance. Some cluster mailboxes are indoors and are not exposed to the natural elements. Others, like those above, are outside and affected by the wind, rain, and snow. For this set, someone cleared off the snow so they don't rust.
Like any mailbox, cluster mailboxes are protected by federal law. And the USPS requires them for new residences. However, the USPS will not repair or provide maintenance for them. Of course, you can always ask them. But they might not do it, or it may take a long time for it to get done.
Instead, the owner or property manager is responsible for the repair and maintenance of cluster mailboxes. Occasionally, a staff member will visit to check on the status of the boxes. But what about the HOA?
Usually, the HOA will have a clause in the contract specifying the duties of the repair and maintenance of cluster mailboxes. Thus, you don't have to worry about it! However, if there is no clause in the contract, then the resident may be responsible for the upkeep of his or her individual cluster mailbox. If this is the case, then you should contact your HOA!
Do post carriers have keys to every mailbox?
No, post carriers do not have keys to every mailbox. If they did, then they would be carrying around too many keys. What if the mail person went to 20 communities in one day? That's at least 160 different keys!
Generally, the mail person opens the front panel of the cluster mailboxes with a single key. Once the panel is open, then the mail person is free to place mail in each slot. Otherwise, it would be extremely time-consuming.
Can I put a note in my neighbor's mailbox?
All cluster mailboxes have a long, narrow slot for outgoing mail. Resident or not, anyone can place mail in the outgoing box. And no flag is needed.
Typically, it depends on the type of box for whether or not you can leave a note in your neighbor's mailbox. Sometimes there are no slots for you to access. Above, you'll see that there is no way for you to insert mail without the key.
If there are individual slots present, like the one above, then, yes, you can leave a note inside of it. Just remember that you can't get it back once it goes inside! So, be sure that you are placing it in the right neighbor's mailbox.
Speaking of which, neglected cluster mailboxes may become too full. For those with slots, the mail is not safe and secure. It can be removed from the box by anyone. So, be sure to clear out your mail weekly!
Cluster mailboxes are efficient, safe, and easy to use. Find out who to get the keys from, make copies, and store them appropriately. You got this!
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