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“Would this place me in legal hot water?”

by Prince Of Petworth April 11, 2017 at 3:30 pm 17 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user fromcaliw/love

“Dear PoPville,

A co-op neighbor of mine had a stroke some months ago, and I’d been helping him out. His medical condition deteriorated, and he disappeared. He’s now reemerged; I received a letter from the Dir. of Social Work at the in-patient healthcare facility where he presently resides. My neighbor can’t tell them much about his family, friends, contacts, etc., as his cognition has been affected, but he remembered enough to recall something similar to my first name, and my unit number. I spoke with the Director, and suggested that I could bring all his January – present day mail to the facility later this week (his mailbox door is broken and anyone can access it) so he can access it. Anybody care to share thoughts? Would this place me in legal hot water?”

  • thunder

    Don’t know about the legal hot water, but it is a kind thing to do.

  • navyard

    Very nice of you to do it.

  • java

    If your neighbor is over 60 y/o you might want to contact the Legal Aide for the Elderly office in DC.

  • P

    Good neighbor, nice work. Don’t forget to trash the junk mail for him. I miss my old mailman, he used to trash junk mail for me, probably illegal, I know, but so awesome.

  • lucie

    It is illegal to open someone else’s mail, as well as to remove it from their mailbox before it is delivered to them. That can carry a pretty hefty fine. However, there are exceptions – for example, secretaries/assistants open bosses’ mail all the time, and children open their elderly parents’ mail. I’ve opened mail addressed to my toddler because his response would likely be to chew on it then shove it under the stove.

    A penalty – the “legal hot water” – would depend on someone pressing charges, and neither your neighbor or the facility sounds like they’d be interested in doing that. I agree with others that it would be a nice thing to do.

  • jpvt

    Since I can’t do it to United Airlines, I’d personally hunt down anyone who gave you a hard time for doing such a nice thing.

  • L.

    My understanding of mail theft laws is that stealing mail directly from the postal service, obstructing mail delivery, and/or opening mail you know is not yours are all illegal. But, I believe bringing a guy unopened mail that he or his caregiver asked you to bring from his house (i.e. after the mail has left the Postal Service’s custody) is not illegal. Are you saying you’re concerned he won’t know you and/or accuse you of stealing his mail? Even if that happens I doubt you’ll get hauled to the jailhouse. Or, did you open his mail? If so you might have some explaining to do but I still doubt you’ll be punished by law enforcement.

    • L.

      Only other thing I can think of on mail rules, and I don’t believe it applies here- if your neighbor was shipping illegal material such as drugs through the mail you might get in legal trouble if you take custody of it, even to just hold or bring to a second location, and the feds (postal inspectors are federal agents) track it/you down. But again, that doesn’t sound like your situation.

    • textdoc

      +1 to “I believe bringing a guy unopened mail that he or his caregiver asked you to bring from his house (i.e. after the mail has left the Postal Service’s custody) is not illegal.”
      It might also be good to 1) ask the facility director if he/she can complete a change-of-address form on the OP’s neighbor’s behalf and 2) ask the property management company to repair the neighbor’s mailbox so it can be locked properly (perhaps placing a key with the OP, if the facility director agrees?).
      OP, props for being a kind neighbor.

  • KPS

    It’s illegal to TAMPER with US mail. I certainly don’t think it’s illegal to hold it for someone. If it is, most of America would be in hot water, as many of us hold mail for neighbors, housemates, friends, and family members. You are kind to help this man!!

  • Anon

    Whatever the law, there is a basically zero percent chance you would be prosecuted.

  • Anonymous

    This is one thing I hate about DC: the proliferation of lawyers has people questioning whether they should perform a kindness to another…because they’re worried about legal repercussions. JFC…

    • Heather2

      right? It’s endemic and it causes more QoL issues here than it “solves.”

  • Erin

    No, you’d be fine. You’re delivering your neighbor’s mail to your neighbor while he’s away from home. You’re not stealing it or opening it for him.

    Signed, a lawyer (who obviously isn’t your lawyer and thus is not officially giving you legal advice)

  • ChillyDC

    The only way you’d be in trouble is if you’re the one who broke his mailbox door!

  • MPLady

    This places you in the “good person” category, not legal hot water. When you deliver the mail, please make sure that the healthcare facility has arranged for your neighbor to see a social worker (so that he can have a legal guardian appointed, if necessary) and ask the coop to address the issue of the mailbox. Thank you for your kindness.

  • Heather2

    Only in DC would someone ask if they would be in trouble for helping someone else, before they agree to help.

    This is a town that actually kind of deserves Trump. I wish the rest of the country did too.


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