Ask an Expert: Does my landlord have to make sure I get my mail?


New York's housing code requires the landlord to arrange for
New York’s housing code requires the landlord to arrange for “prompt distribution” of mail to tenants. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Trevor Collens

The landlord of my small multi-unit brownstone used to divide up everyone’s mail, but now just leaves it in a heap on the first floor for everyone to sort through. Is this legal, and what are her responsibilities here?

Your landlord’s haphazard new “pile of mail” system isn’t just annoying, it also violates regulations of NYC Housing Code, say our experts.

Start by speaking with your landlord, suggests Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management. “Ask why the change in delivery — is it temporary, and what can all renters expect?” This is also an opportune time to remind her that New York’s housing code requires the landlord to arrange for “prompt distribution” of mail to tenants, and to “provide and maintain approved receptacles” for your mail (for example, individual mailboxes, as outlined in the U.S. postal code.)

“I do not think that an owner who receives the mail and leaves it in a pile for the occupants to sort through is complying with the law,” says tenant attorney Ronald Languedoc. Often, a simple reminder of your landlord’s legal obligations will do the trick.

“You can start with a phone call, and if then if necessary, progress to a written complaint,” suggests Languedoc. If the problem still isn’t resolved, you can call and register a complaint with 311, who may send an inspector to the building, and write up a violation for your landlord, who can potentially be fined if she doesn’t fix the problem and install appropriate mailboxes.

Failing that, you could take more extreme measures and file what’s known as an HP action in housing court to force repairs, though be warned, this won’t exactly land you in your landlord’s good graces.

“In my experience, tenants who are protected by rent regulation are much more inclined to complain about something like this, because they’re protected,” says Languedoc. If your more straightforward initial requests don’t solve the problem, unfortunately, “You have to decide if you’re willing to take all these steps,” he adds.

And if nothing seems to do the trick with your wayward landlord and you’d like to bypass the problem altogether, you might want to consider getting important packages and documents sent to your office, if possible, or setting up a post office box where you can have all of your mail sent instead. It’s a cumbersome extra step, but depending on the situation, it may be better than having your neighbors pawing through your mail every day.

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