UPDATE: Since this story first aired, NBC4 has added comments from a neighbor and a response from the Postal Service. In addition, USPS spokesman Maher informs the I-Team that some residents have now signed the agreement to pay for future CBU repairs and replacement, and adds that the new CBU will be installed soon.
Neighbors who choose not to sign the agreement say they’ll use a P.O. box from now on.People in a Lancaster neighborhood are facing off with the U.S. Postal Service, after thieves ripped open and vandalized their community mailbox.
Kristen Sheils tells the I-Team that she and her 11 neighbors have been unable to receive mail deliveries since vandals damaged their cluster box unit, or CBU, in April.
While they once could walk just a few blocks to retrieve their mail from the CBU, residents now have to drive 20 minutes each way to collect their mail from a U.S. Postal Service sorting site.
"It’s just a huge inconvenience," Sheils said.
“I’m so frustrated, and it makes me so angry,” added her neighbor Tina Hormis.
The USPS says it has offered to replace the box, but only on the condition that the residents sign an agreement that would make them financially responsible for any future damage.
Despite Sheils’ and Hormis’ frustration, USPS spokesman Richard Maher tells the I-Team “the policy in the Postal Operations Manual…states mail receptacles are to be provided and maintained by the customer.”
Maher says this a uniform, national policy that has been in effect “for as long as anyone can remember.”
“The USPS occasionally would provide minor repair (replace a lock, straighten a bent door) and rarely would cover the cost of a new or replacement box unit,” Maher continues. “Both cases would be at a local management’s discretion.”
According to a USPS memo obtained by the I-Team, free repairs will happen less frequently, as the USPS launches a new initiative in its Sierra Coastal district (which includes much of Northern Los Angeles County) "to reduce criminal losses to both the USPS and its customers."
Among the new steps outlined in the memo: "Requiring owners/residents of non-serviceable delivery points (CBUs, apartment panels, etc.) to replace or repair as needed."
But Sheils says it’s unfair to make her and her neighbors responsible for the actions of vandals, when their CBU is too far from their homes to monitor closely.
"I shouldn’t be responsible for the thief who decided to destroy our box," she said.
But the U.S. Postal Service says covering replacement costs is financially unfeasible.
"The Postal Service is not tax-dollar supported," Maher told the I-Team. "We support ourselves and our facilities with the sale of postages and products we sell just like any other business."
Sheils says she and her fellow residents would gladly pay to erect their own personal mailbox in front of their house. However, that’s not an option, because in the past two years, the Postal Service has phased out individual mail delivery in new housing communities as part of ongoing budget cuts.
Doorstep delivery costs the USPS about $353 per address each year, while delivery to CBU’s costs $160 per address.
The USPS called the offer to replace the box one last time a "gift," to be given as long as neighbors sign the agreement acknowledging responsibility for it in the future.
But with large cluster boxes priced at well over $1000, Sheils and her neighbors say they won’t give in.
"We were victimized, and now we’re being victimized again by the USPS," said Sheils. "There’s nothing fair about it."
Kristen and her neighbors have now pooled together to rent a P.O. box at a private facility nearby, but she tells the I-Team that the USPS has yet to forward any of their mail.
The decision to stop replacing communal mailboxes is one of several cost cutting measures being implemented by the USPS. For more information on how your service may be impacted, click on these view its memos on future operations here and here.
For more information on USPS budget changes, and how it could impact your mail service, you can click on these links: