September 13, 1994
Mr. Ricardo A. DiRose
Pine City, NY 14871
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
Dear Mr. DiRose:
As you are aware, I have received your letter of August 17. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response.
You wrote that the Onondaga County Sheriff's Department recently advised you that you must submit "a self-addressed stamped envelope to receive the papers you requested under F.O.I.L." You questioned the propriety of the practice.
In this regard, there is nothing in the Freedom of Information Law that deals directly with the issue, and the provisions dealing with fees pertain to the cost of photocopying records up to nine by fourteen inches or reproducing other records that cannot be photocopied. Further, I know of no judicial decisions that have considered an imposition of a fee for postage.
As a general matter, the Freedom of Information Law requires that accessible records be made available for inspection and copying. No fee may be assessed for the inspection of accessible records when inspection occurs at the offices of an agency. When copies of records are requested, §87(1)(b)(iii) of the Freedom of Information Law permits an agency to charge up to twenty-five cents per photocopy for records up to nine by fourteen inches, unless a statute other than the Freedom of Information Law permits an agency to charge a higher fee.
When an applicant requests copies of records, the records may be reproduced in the presence of an applicant, the applicant can physically present himself or herself at an agency's offices to obtain copies, or copies can be mailed to the applicant.
While nothing in the Freedom of Information Law or the regulations promulgated by the Committee on Open Government (21 NYCRR Part 1401) deals with the cost of or the assessment of charges for postage when copies are mailed to an applicant, I do not believe that either would prohibit an agency from charging for postage. In my view, mailing copies of records to an applicant represents an additional service provided by an agency that is separate from the duties imposed by the Freedom of Information Law. An agency must, in my opinion, mail copies of records to an applicant upon payment of the appropriate fees for copying and postage; alternatively, if it informs the applicant of the cost of postage, I believe that an agency could require that an applicant provide a stamped self-addressed envelope.
I hope that I have been of some assistance.
Robert J. Freeman
cc: Records Access Officer