Oops, I Opened My Neighbor’s Mail!

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The postal service isn’t infallible. They’re prone to making human mistakes. One of the most common mistakes the postal service does is occasionally putting your neighbor’s mail in your mailbox.

Most of us don’t really look at the mail before we open it. Since it’s in our mailbox, we automatically assume it’s for us. As a result, occasionally we open a piece of mail that belongs to our neighbor.

This can instantly lead to a sense of panic because most of us know that opening other people’s mail is a federal offense.

If you’ve accidentally opened a piece of mail that isn’t yours, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath and relax. Unfortunately, these things happen.

The best way to deal with the situation is to return the mail to the envelope, seal it with a piece of tape, and let your neighbor know what happened. If you don’t see your neighbor, either slide the mail under their front door with a note of explanation or return the mail to the post office.

You want to take a proactive stance on the situation. The quicker you are to admit to the mistake, the less likely your neighbor will be to press charges.

If you got as far as reading whatever was sent to your neighbor, you don’t want to discuss the contents with anyone. Not with your neighbor (unless they bring it up,) not your spouse and not your friends. Talking about the mail you accidentally opened could be considered an invasion of privacy and may cause your neighbor to consider filing charges against you.

The issue of mail theft is dealt covered by Penal Code 530.5(E). In California, opening someone’s mail is a misdemeanor offense. A guilty conviction could result in being sentenced to a single year in jail. The good news is that to secure a conviction, the prosecution has to prove that you knowingly accepted the mail (or took it out of someone’s mailbox) and opened it. That’s why it’s so important to admit what you’ve done and alert both the post office and the actual owner of the mail to the situation.