The Demise of Individual Mailboxes

February 01, 2022 (Reston, Virginia)

It’s hardly news that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been struggling financially for quite a while. In 2012, USPS began tackling one of its most expensive operations, residential delivery, by making “cluster boxes” the default delivery option for new residential developments. It’s now aggressively enforcing that policy, meaning that builders must install cluster mailboxes for all homes in a new home community.

A cluster box unit (CBU) is a communal mailbox mounted on a pedestal with an individual, locked mailbox for each customer. They often also have s a parcel lockers for packages too large to fit in the individual boxes. The carrier places the key for the parcel locker in an individual mailbox when the customer receives a package.

On the plus side, delivery of mail to a central location is quicker and easier for the Postal Service, saving fuel and labor costs and delaying vehicle depreciation. CBUs are also touted as being more secure than curbside mailboxes since each residence has an individual key to unlock the associated mailbox. Cluster mailboxes are also built with USPS approved safety features to help prevent mail theft. And, in good weather, retrieving mail can be a pleasant excuse for a stroll and a chance to connect with neighbors.

USPS guidelines direct builders to install cluster boxes in a location that is easily accessible for both homeowners and USPS delivery. This requirement can be challenging in communities with larger lots and greater distances between homes. Gulick Group is working to make installation convenient and practical for all community members as we comply with this requirement.

While there’s nothing to prevent a homeowner from installing a private mailbox on their property, mail carriers won’t deliver or pick up outgoing mail from private mailboxes in a community that has cluster mailboxes.

USPS is also requesting homeowners in some established communities to transition to cluster boxes. Once a homeowner agrees to this change, there is typically not an option to return to using an individual mailbox.

Some states are further along in enforcement than others, but Virginia is now implementing the policy strictly.  A builder or homeowner can appeal the use of cluster mailboxes with USPS, but it can be challenging to identify and reach the appropriate local representative. Further, since the USPS is regulated by Congress, exceptions to the requirement for cluster boxes are difficult (if not impossible) to obtain. If you’re interested in learning more, the developers and builders guide is available online.

About Gulick Group, Inc.: Established in 1987, Reston-based Gulick Group has developed communities throughout Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, including One Cameron Place and Newport Shores in Reston, The Reserve in McLean, Autumn Wood, Grovemont, and the three Riverbend Communities in Great Falls, Red Cedar West in Leesburg, and Wild Meadow in Ashburn.