"Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"--that's the legendary though unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service. But can an apartment building do what neither snow, nor rain, nor heat can't?

Elizabeth Richter thinks so. When the local photographic artist moved from the apartment she had rented for eight years to her new one in Alexandria recently, she filed an official change of address form at the post office, confident the mail carriers would forward any first-class mail.

She soon learned otherwise. First, she noticed all the forwarded envelopes had hand-scribbled labels stuck over the old address. Then she began to doubt whether she was receiving all of the mail still addressed to her previous residence.

When Richter called the Postal Service, she was told that her mail is still being delivered to her old apartment complex, where the building's employees re-address it to her new location. She was told that, under postal regulations, certain apartment buildings handle the piece-by-piece distribution of their occupants' mail themselves.

"It becomes a real issue when you move out and realize that the former apartment is forwarding your mail," complains Richter.

"And it's done by hand, not by a computer system, so the address isn't always correct. I know I'm not getting all of my mail."

Debra Yackley, spokeswoman for the Postal Service's Capitol and Northern Virginia region, says, "Basically we have a number of apartment buildings in the Washington, D.C., area--and probably in all large cities--where the owners of the building decide to provide the service to their customers of delivering the mail.

"Employees of the apartment building actually deliver the mail to each apartment--and when someone moves, they forward their mail."

As for Richter's change of address form, Yackley says the Postal Service had no record of it. But it doesn't matter if it did, because its automated system continues to identify her mail by the street address--not by apartment number--and includes it in those bulk deliveries.

Yackley adds that most people who live in apartment buildings that distribute their own mail know it--even if they don't know that once they move, the building handles the forwarding as well.

All of which leaves Richter lamenting: "So I am not a name? I am an address?" she asks. "And not even the correct address?"

Got a consumer complaint? A smart consumer trick? E-mail details to oldenburgd@washpost.com or write to Don Oldenburg, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, D.C. 20071.