THE STAFF at Apartment & Townhouse Rentals knew there was something wrong last fall when the rental checks did not arrive, rental agent Tony Lombardo says.
Small squirts of mail came in, he says, but not the usual river that flows through at the start of each month when rent is due.
He called the U.S. Postal Service and was told, "Oh, no, there's nothing wrong."
A few days later, the post office at Ninth and Market Streets that serves the 19107 zip code found a tub of mail in the corner, Lombardo relates.
It wasn't the first Philadelphia-area problem.
In 2015, letter carrier Patrick D'Ambrosio, 48, was accused of stealing 22,500 pieces of mail and hiding the horde in his car and his garage between May 2014 and January 2015, when the Department of Justice collared him.
In 2014, a Delaware County Postal Service employee was charged with stealing cash and gift cards from their intended recipients.
In 2013, a similar case sprung in Abington, Montgomery County, and in 2009, a Germantown mail processing clerk was charged with stealing 2,200 video games mailed by the video-game rental company GameFly.
When you have almost a half-million career employees handling 154 billion pieces of mail each year, there are bound to be a few with sticky fingers or an irresistible urge to loaf. The vast majority are hardworking and there are numerous cases of letter carriers being heroes.
But that's not today's story.
At a condo high-rise on Spruce Street, manager Natalie Wolfinger says mail service "has been one of my biggest peeves" since she was hired two years ago.
Her main complaint was that the post office would drop white bins of mail in the lobby, where they would remain for hours. Keeping an eye on the mail became an unwanted task for condo employees. She also says the mail carrier left the postal cart outside the building, unsupervised.
The major complaints she got from homeowners concerned the late arrival of mail and the continuing problem of misdirected mail - mail being put in the wrong owner's box. Residents believed the source of the problem was a letter carrier who chatted on her cellphone the whole time she sorted mail.
Wolfinger made repeated calls to Ninth and Market and got nowhere.
USPS spokesman Raymond Daiutolo says employees are permitted to use cellphones in an emergency, but are prohibited "while walking on a route and when fingering/reading the mail" and while "in contact with or in view of the public."
The unsupervised-mail issue was resolved by putting what is called a relay box (an olive-green storage box) outside the building.
Daiutolo says USPS provided "direct contact information" to Wolfinger should future problems arise.
A few blocks away on Pine Street, J Nathan Bazzel, who's the safety chair for the Washington West Civic Association, has a laundry list of complaints from neighbors. Sometimes days go by without a delivery, he says, and letter carriers with parcels that don't fit in the mailbox often won't bother to ring the doorbell.
The most serious complaints, he says, compromise residents' security.
"Some mail carriers have put us at risk for theft and fraud by hanging mail on the exterior door to the buildings," says Bazzel.
He theorizes that some postal employees don't know about the key keeper. Outside multiunit dwellings that don't have staff to open the door, nor exterior mailboxes, is a wall-mounted locked box called a key keeper, which either has a key or a buzzer to admit postal workers to the vestibule to access mailboxes. Postal workers have a key to open the key keeper.
Daiutolo says there may have been a misunderstanding by replacement carriers when the regular staffers were off. "Local managers have met with all the carriers to make sure they understand how to access the building," Daiutolo tells me.
Bazzel goes on to ask, "Where are their uniforms? Seriously, most of the mail carriers we are now seeing are not wearing any form of Postal Service uniform. How are we supposed to know who is a legitimate Postal Service employee?"
The district recently has hired "many new part-time carriers, city carrier assistants," says Daiutolo. During their probationary period, he says, they don't get a full uniform, but "they should have a postal ID, postal hat and postal shirt."
Bazzel says they often don't.
Postal workers take pride in their work, Daiutolo says. "Any complaint about mishandled mail is unacceptable," and "the Postal Service takes customers' complaints very seriously."
If you are in Philadelphia and you have complaints, the customer relations number is 215-895-8610.