A common annoyance some people experience when moving into a new place is dealing with mail meant for the previous resident. This happens more often than you might expect, and it can range from a minor inconvenience to a major source of frustration, depending on how much mail you receive and how the post office reacts to your concerns.
It’s important to understand your legal options because dealing with mail can be a highly sensitive subject with more serious implications than some might expect.
You have several options for dealing with mail from a previous resident if it starts getting too much. Most of these won’t take too much effort.
1. Write "No Longer at This Address" on Unwanted Mail
The easiest way to stop unwanted mail is to write "No Longer at This Address" on the unwanted envelopes and return them to your mailbox. The mailman will pick them up the post office will update its system to show that the previous resident no longer lives at your address.
2. Mark Envelopes with “Return to Sender”
Another thing you can do with unwanted mail is to write “Return to Sender” on each envelope and leave it out in your mailbox. It’s a good idea to cross out the barcode as well. Sometimes, due to confusion in the post office, your mail carrier might return the envelope to the office, only for them to send it straight back to you. Crossing out the barcode will prevent the letter from getting processed automatically, triggering a manual inspection.
3. Add a Note to Your Mailbox
You can also add a note to your mailbox. It can be in free form and doesn’t have to follow any specific format. For example, simply writing “John Smith does not live here anymore” is enough. The important thing is that the message is clearly visible when the mail is being delivered. This is the last resort for many people, as nobody wants to have a huge sign defacing their mailbox. But if the above option doesn’t work, you might have to take things to the next level.
4. Talk to the Post Office
If you’ve done the above and mail for the previous tenant still keeps coming to you, you should take some time to visit the post office directly and discuss the situation with them. It’s possible that nobody was alerted of the situation and that workers at the office are unaware that they’re still sending mail to the wrong recipient. If possible, document some of the incidents in as much detail as possible, including the exact dates on which you’ve received unwanted letters.
- Forward It
- Return the Mail To the Sender
- Leave it With Someone Who Knows the Previous Tenant
1. Forward It
If you're receiving mail that is intended for the previous tenant, and you know where they've moved, the easiest thing you can do is forward it along to them. If you have the previous tenant's contact info, you can also reach out to them to discuss how you can arrange to get them their mail.
2. Return the Mail To the Sender
If you don't have any contact info for the previous tenant, the best thing you can do is to write "return to sender" on the envelope and place it back in your mailbox. This will let the mailman know that they know longer live there, and the post office will return the mail to the sender.
3. Leave it With Someone Who Knows the Previous Tenant
Another option is to leave the previous tenant's mail with someone who knows them. This isn't always possible or ideal, but if it's an important or urgent piece of mail it could be your best bet. If you're a renter that could mean contacting your landlord as they might have the past tenant's contact info. Also, if you live in an apartment building, you can try leaving the mail with the doorman.
You should never destroy mail that’s not yours. This includes simply throwing it away. The law prohibits you from tampering with other people’s mail in general. You’re not allowed to open those letters either, so don’t let that thought cross your mind. If it’s just a few letters and you’re not too annoyed by the situation, you should store them in a safe place that you can easily access.
While you’re not allowed to destroy or throw away mail that doesn’t belong to you, you’re also under no obligation to go out of your way to return it. You can mark the letters to be sent back (see below), but even that’s optional. It’s perfectly legal to hold on to the letters until someone comes looking for them. If they don’t, you should look into returning them to the post office or even directly to the original sender.
Getting mail for someone who doesn’t live here is something you should address as soon as possible. If not, the issue will rarely go away on its own. And while you might be feeling annoyed, the person who’s supposed to be receiving those letters could have much more serious problems on their hands, depending on what type of mail they’re missing exactly.