From time to time we receive calls from tenants in Chicago reporting that their landlord is stealing their mail. Mail theft is serious crime and below we attempt to provide information to help tenants recover their mail and stop future theft.
Mail theft is a federal crime. Illinois has laws and regulations that apply to the manner in which landlords can treat the property of their tenants. However, when it comes to postal mail, U.S. Postal Inspectors are in charge of ensuring that mail is properly delivered to its intended recipient and that such mail remains intact. Federal statutes protect tenants, and others, from mail theft of all types, including situations in which a landlord may improperly dispose of mail without the consent of the tenant.
According to the United States Code, Section 1708, taking mail or concealing mail that is not intended for the individual in possession of the mail is considered theft and is punishable by law. An amendment to Section 1708 that was made in 1952 made any theft of mail, regardless of the monetary value of the property, a third degree felony. Third degree felonies are punishable by fine, up to five years imprisonment, or both.
If you believe your landlord is stealing your mail, consider taking the following steps:
- Confront your landlord about the theft and request that it cease immediately or you will contact the authorities;
- Contact local police and report the theft, request that the responding officer write a report and give you a copy;
- Retain an attorney to write a demand letter and possibly file suit against the landlord;
- File a complaint with the United States Postal Service Postal Inspector;
- Obtain a P.O. box and have your mail delivered to the box rather than to your residence.
Confronting your landlord
Often the simple act of calling a landlord out on his misconduct and informing him of the seriousness of the offense will cause him to cease
stealing your mail. If you are unsure whether the landlord is stealing your mail, inform him that you are concerned that your mail is missing and ask if he knows what might be happening. Mention that you may have to call the police to investigate.
Contacting the police
The Chicago Police Department deals with many serious crimes every day and, unfortunately, mail theft is not high on their list of priorities. However, if your mail is stolen, you can call the non-emergency number and ask to file a report. Hopefully, an officer will be sent to take your information so a formal report can be filed. Keep a copy of the report for your records.
Retaining an attorney
Tenants’ rights lawyers can be hired to write letters to landlords demanding that they cease illegal activity. Often a landlord takes a letter from a lawyer more seriously than one from his tenant. Under some circumstances, the lawyer may also be able to represent you in a lawsuit against your landlord to either bar further illegal activity or recover money damages as compensation.
Contacting the U.S. Postal Service
You have the right to file a complaint with the United States Postal Service regarding the stolen mail. If you believe that your mail was stolen, you should report the theft immediately to your nearest postmaster or Postal Inspector. The post office will request that you file a formal complaint form called PS Form 2016. You can file a complaint online at: http://ehome.uspis.gov/mailtheft/mlntrcvd.aspx. Upon your filing of the form, the Postal Service will review your claim and investigate the situation to determine whether your problem is isolated or if there may have been others involved.
Obtaining a P.O. Box
A practical solution to mail theft is redirecting your mail to a secure P.O. box. This solution is especially useful when mail theft is pervasive in the area or when your landlord is particularly unresponsive or hostile. Some tenants do not want to start a fight with their landlord over missing mail and in those situations renting a P.O. Box is the easiest option.