One of the most common favors that apartment dwellers ask of their neighbors is to collect their mail while they're away from their apartment for an extended period of time. Collecting a neighbor's mail isn't difficult, and usually the experience is great for helping tenants build a relationship of trust and respect with others who live in the building.
However, even tenants who mean well sometimes do things that damage their relationship with a neighbor while collecting mail. Here are some pointers to help you prevent any problems.
When a Neighbor Asks You to Collect Mail
If your neighbor asks you to collect his mail while he's away, follow these tips:
- Think before you commit. You wouldn't like it if a neighbor tells you she'll collect your mail and then backs out at the last minute. If a neighbor plans to be away, for instance, for a week at the end of next month, check your schedule before committing. Even if your schedule is currently open, make sure you weren't considering going on vacation that week as well. If you will be away but your roommate will be around, suggest to your neighbor about having your roommate collect the mail instead.
- Get mailbox key before neighbor leaves. If your apartment building has individual tenant mailboxes, you'll need to touch base with your neighbor before he leaves to get his mail key.
- Exchange contact information. Get your neighbor's contact information, such as a cell phone number, before the trip, and make sure your neighbor has your phone numbers, as well. If your neighbor is expecting something important, he might ask if he can check in with you regularly about the mail, or you might agree just to call your neighbor if the particular item arrives.
Even if your neighbor tells you not to bother contacting him about the mail, it's still a good idea to exchange contact information in case there's a fire or other emergency in the building, or the landlord needs to enter your neighbor's apartment for any reason.
- Decide on a convenient time to hand over the mail. Find out when your neighbor should return and then figure out when would be convenient to deliver the mail and return the mailbox key. For instance, if your neighbor is expected back late at night, you might tell your neighbor that he should call to touch base the next day.
When You Agree to Collect Your Neighbor's Mail
If you agree to collect your neighbor's mail, follow these tips:
- Don't open anything without permission. Unless your neighbor directs you otherwise, collect the mail without opening any of it. If a piece of mail looks urgent, consider getting in touch with your neighbor to let him know what arrived and whether you should open it. But all too often, mail marked "urgent" is just a solicitation for a limited-time offer.
- Don't discard anything. You might be tempted to throw away fliers and other mail that appears to be junk, especially if this is the practice you follow when collecting your own mail each day. But remember, the favor you agreed to do is simply collect your neighbor's mail -- it's your neighbor's job (not to mention his right) to decide what should be discarded. Unless your neighbor tells you to get rid of anything you believe is junk, keep everything that arrives. Also, keep in mind that what you consider a worthless piece of advertising could be of interest to your neighbor.
- Store mail in a safe place. Make sure your neighbor's mail is out of both reach and sight to visitors. Use a shelf or drawer to store your neighbor's mail until he returns. If the mail builds up, use a bag, box, or other appropriate storage container. This way, items won't get misplaced, mixed up with your own mail, damaged, discarded, or even opened by anyone else. Taking this step will also help safeguard your neighbor's privacy. For example, others won't be able to see that your neighbor got a letter from the IRS or a collection agency, which could imply financial problems and would be no one else's business.
- Give mail to neighbor in a presentable way. Go the extra mile and put your neighbor's mail together neatly. Remove any letters stuck inside magazines, and sort similar items together, such as periodicals, letters, postcards, large envelopes and fliers. It doesn't take long to make the mail look presentable, and your neighbor will appreciate your efforts and likely return the favor when the time comes for you to go away.
If you follow these tips, hopefully the experience of collecting your neighbor's mail will help establish a relationship of trust and respect that you can benefit you both going forward. However, if a neighbor doesn't show proper appreciation, doesn't reciprocate, or gives you a hard time, then you should consider whether it's worth doing favors for this neighbor again.