Can I Put My Neighbor’s Mail in Their Mailbox Legally?

man putting mail in mailbox

We all make mistakes, even the mailman from time to time. If you find that your mailman accidentally placed your neighbor’s mail inside your mailbox, don’t panic, he’s human just like the rest of us. What should we do in this case though? Can I Put My Neighbor’s Mail in Their Mailbox?

It’s perfectly legal and acceptable to put your neighbor’s mail in their mailbox if it’s been misdelivered. Opening your neighbor’s mail or removing mail from their mailbox however is considered a federal crime in which you can be fined and face jail time.

There is no law that prohibits the opening of someone’s mailbox, given that it is not locked. But even then, you should be careful about returning mail that doesn’t belong to you for several reasons. This article will give you tips on what you should and should not do with misdelivered mail.

Is It Illegal to Open Someone Else’s Mailbox?

With millions of letters and packages delivered, there will occasionally be mix-ups from mailmen. There are mail carriers who are not mindful enough when it comes to matching recipients to their addresses. You might find that mail that arrived in your mailbox is intended for your neighbor.

Perhaps, the mail carrier simply misread the address because it looked too similar. In the case of apartment building residents, getting someone’s mail can be a common occurrence. Whatever the reason may be, mails do get misdelivered but what happens to that mail will now be up to the recipient.

What to Do With Mail Delivered to the Wrong Address

So, what if you just received a letter or package that’s intended for your neighbor? Or perhaps, it was delivered to the right address but the recipient is no longer living there?

If you find a mail in your mailbox and you’re sure it’s not for you, do not open it. More importantly, do not throw it away. Doing either can get you in trouble. What you can do is to be neighborly enough and find ways to make sure the mail finds its way to the right recipient.

There are different ways on how you can do this:

  • Deliver the mail by yourself
  • Place it back in the mailbox with a note

Deliver the Mail by Yourself

If you know that the mail is for a neighbor who lives close by, it will be much easier to return it to the rightful owner. You can open your neighbor’s mailbox and put the letter yourself. This is not an offense of any kind and your neighbor might even thank you for it.

However, opening the mailbox is an option most people take if the recipient is not home. It’s also done by people who have good relations with their neighbors. If you’re not on good terms with your neighbor, then it might look suspicious if you open their mailbox. 

If you don’t want to risk being suspected, just go up to your neighbor, knock on their door, and hand the mail to them – that is if this is considered a more comfortable option for you.

Keep in mind that it is not illegal to open your neighbor’s mailbox as long as you’re certain that it is not locked. It is also not illegal to deliver the mail to the correct address yourself, as long as the proper postage is on there. We have to stress the importance of the postage stamp and making sure it’s there.

Think of this scenario: A neighbor’s mail ends up in your mailbox. With good intentions, you opened your neighbor’s mailbox and placed the mail there but without checking the postage stamp. If you’re caught, this could look like you’re putting mail that doesn’t have the stamp – which means there was no payment made to the USPS. This could also look like you’re using the mailbox for other purposes.

Remember that the mailbox should be used only for U.S. mail. It is illegal to use the mailbox for other purposes, such as putting notes and flyers that are seemingly promoting yourself or something that you support.

Place It Back In the Mailbox With a Note

If you don’t want to go to your neighbor’s house and personally deliver the mail or maybe the recipient lives far from you, you can simply place the mail back into the mailbox for the courier to pick up. Of course, you will place a note indicating that the mail was sent to the incorrect address.

When going for this option, you can take a sticky note and write along the lines of “wrong address.” You can also use a piece of paper and attach it using a paper clip. Keep in mind that it is not acceptable to write on the envelope itself.

Can I Put a Note in My Neighbors Mailbox?

If for some reason you want to reach your neighbor and you decide to write a note that you want to place in their mailbox, it’s worth noting this could get you in trouble. The law states that it is illegal to use the mailbox for purposes other than deliveries from the Post Office.

If you place a note or even a flyer inside someone’s mailbox, you could be fined or reported then fined. Typically, you’ll be warned before you’ll face the possibility of a fine. This will be a risk you will face if your neighbor finds out you’ve been placing notes in their mailbox and the idea doesn’t sit well for them.

If you have to send a message to your neighbor there are always other options. Since we’re in the digital age, you can always contact the person via social media or email if you know them. There’s also the option to send text messages.

However, if you don’t know your neighbor that much and you need to send out a note, you can always tape it to their door or stick it in between the door frame. The important takeaway is to never put a note inside a mailbox – unless it has a postage stamp on it.

I Keep Getting My Neighbor’s Mail – What Should I Do?

You might be annoyed at the fact that USPS keeps delivering to the wrong address. If receiving mail for someone else at my address keeps happening to me, I’d be bothered enough that I would contact the post office. 

Most homeowners who experience the same thing would contact USPS too. And this happens to be the best advice given. According to USPS, if you receive mail that’s not intended for you, you can simply return it by dropping the mail in a USPS Collection Box. It also helps to label it with “Not at this address” with a sticky note.

Can I Get My Mail Out of Someone Else’s Mailbox?

Meanwhile, the story could be reversed and you might have your mail end up in someone else’s box. If that happens, you might wonder, is it illegal to open someone’s mailbox and take a misdelivered mail that belongs to you?

Let’s consider the following scenario: You observe that a mail vehicle pulls up in front of a row of mailboxes. You are expecting a package or mail to be dropped inside your mailbox. Later on, the post office just sent out a notification that the package or mail has indeed been delivered to you.

So you go and check on your mailbox and see that there’s nothing in there. You now have the idea that the mailman must have placed your mail in a different box. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise you since you know that you and your neighbor’s mailbox number are somewhat similar and it’s easy to mistake one for the other.

You start wondering, can I go through my neighbor’s mailbox and find my own mail? Sure, you can ask your neighbor about it but what if your neighbor is gone for the weekend and that mail is urgent? What can you do in this situation?

Your action will depend on your relationship with the neighbor. If you are on good terms, your neighbor trusts you enough to not suspect you of something illegal. They are unlikely to complain about it and will understand that you simply tried to get your mail. Of course, it helps if you inform them firsthand. 

On the other hand, if you and your neighbor are not in good terms, going through their mailbox to get the misdelivered mail that belongs to you will be seen as an invasion of privacy. They might even accuse you of stealing something from the mailbox.

Conclusion: Can I Put My Neighbors Mail in Their Mailbox

A mailman putting mail in the wrong mailbox is quite a common occurrence. The mail that ended up in your mailbox could be for your neighbor or for someone else that lives far from you. If you received a mail that’s intended for your neighbor, you can get this mail and place it in their mailbox, without penalty.

Still, you have to be careful when opening someone else’s mailbox. To sum it up, here’s what you should and should not do about a mail that’s been mistakenly delivered to you:

  • Do not open or throw out the mail
  • Inform your neighbor that you have their mail.
  • If you can’t reach your neighbor, put the mail in their mailbox but make sure it bears the postage stamp.
  • The best and safest option is to put back the mail in the mailbox and label it with “incorrect address” using a sticky note. A courier will pick it up and get it delivered to the right owner.
  • If you keep receiving letters or packages by mistake, contact USPS.