Tenants moved out but their mail keeps showing up? Sound familiar?
Not giving a forwarding address to the USPS and landlords is not unusual. For landlords, it’s time-consuming and just plain annoying to deal with mail from former tenants.
In a perfect world, people would always, as they are supposed to, give the USPS their new address, but we know this doesn’t always happen. So if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you need some help to understand what you can do to take care of the problem and mitigate it in the future.
Keep reading to learn what you can do with mail from previous tenants.
Ways to Stop Mail from Previous Tenants
When figuring out how to stop mail for former tenants still being delivered, there are a few things you can do and an order to do them.
The first action you can take is to leave the mail for the postal carrier with “Return to Sender,” “No longer at this address,” or “Moved” on the envelope. The carrier will take the mail back to the post office of origin. The post office will forward it if they have a forwarding address, but if not, they will send the mail back to the sender.
If the envelope has a barcode, the post office uses an automated system to sort the mail. The bar code corresponds to the address it is being delivered to, so even if you write a note on the envelope, the barcode will still “send” the mail to your address. In this case, mark through the barcode and write, “Not at this address” near it. Drawing through a barcode will cause the post office system to register the mail as “undeliverable.”
If the post office returns to the sender, hopefully, the sender will update their records and send mail to the revised address. The post office will take note of this and update their records.
A second action is leaving a friendly note inside the mailbox of the previous resident that says something like, “Former Tenant (Name) no longer lives at this address, please only leave mail for Current Tenant (Name).”
Mail carriers will most probably pay attention to this and sort out the mail going forward, recognizing this change.
Finally, if mail keeps showing up after attempting a “Return to Sender” and leaving a note for the mail carrier, is to either speak directly to the carrier in a friendly manner or go to your post office and ask to speak with the Postmaster.
Other Questions about Receiving Former Tenants’ Mail
Why Else Should I Care about Having a Former Tenant’s Address?
Besides the annoyance of dealing with former tenants’ mail, there are practical reasons not having a forwarding address is a problem. One, a landlord needs an address to send a security deposit. Second, what if there is a legal action, such as a small claims court, and the landlord has no way of contacting the tenant? Going to small claims court requires letters and notices to be sent.
Can I Look At, Shred, or Throw Out a Previous Tenant’s Mail?
No, looking at, shredding, or throwing out a previous tenant’s mail is illegal. You can serve up to five years in prison or pay a hefty fine for opening someone else’s mail because it is considered theft.
Shredding or throwing away someone else’s mail is also considered a form of theft. Don’t do this.
Can I Fill Out a Change of Address Form for the Previous Tenant?
While it may be tempting to take matters into your own hands and fill out the Change of Address form, don’t do this.
To fill out a Change of Address form, you must be the previous tenant, an executor, guardian, or authorized agent to file a change of address.
Filling out a Change of Address form without authority to do so is a federal crime. You could be fined or go to prison.
What If My Tenant Is Deceased and This Is Why I Keep Getting Their Mail?
A tenant passing away can happen. You may hope or think that the family will care for the deceased’s mail, but this doesn’t always happen. If you need to stop the mail going to a deceased tenant, you can take the following steps:
Go to the Direct Marketing Association website and enter your deceased tenant’s name. It takes about three months for changes to take place. While this may not stop you from receiving all junk mail because only companies that use marketing and mailing lists will receive notification, it should cut it down substantially.
Write “Deceased, Return to Sender” on the mail. If this doesn’t work, speak with your carrier, or go to your post office and speak with the Postmaster.
Finally, the last option and most time-consuming one is contacting the companies directly.
Am I Allowed to Throw Away Mail from Previous Tenants?
Neither landlords nor new tenants are allowed to discard or destroy mail that’s addressed to a previous tenant. In fact, doing so is a federal offense. Additionally, filling out a change of address form for your old tenant is also illegal — they’ll have to take that step themselves.
What if the letters you’re receiving addressed to the previous tenant are junk mail? Though it may seem tempting to just throw these in the trash, they are still protected by law, and you could still technically be prosecuted for destroying or discarding them.
Though destroying or disposing of someone else’s mail is illegal, it’s also important to note that landlords and new tenants are not responsible for holding the mail that they receive for the old tenant for any extended period of time.
You may have grounds for a legal intervention if the old tenant refuses to fill out change of address forms, forcing you to keep their mail indefinitely.
How Can I Stop Receiving Mail from Previous Tenants?
There are a few ways to make the constant flood of letters addressed to the previous tenant finally stop. One of the most obvious ways is to forward these items to them yourself if you know their new address. Cross out the USPS barcode and their old address, write their new address, and put it in the mailbox.
This practice isn’t very sustainable as it still requires more work than you should be responsible for as a landlord or new tenant. Some tenants simply leave a note on their mailbox letting their mail carrier know that a certain previous tenant no longer lives there and to not leave any mail for them.
Another option is to write “Not at this address” or “Moved” on the front of the envelope and leave it in the mailbox for your mail carrier to find. These actions are easy for you to do and put the onus on the post office system to stop delivering items to your address where the recipient no longer lives.
How USPS Can Help
It’s illegal for individual citizens to discard or destroy mail that is addressed to someone else, but the process looks slightly different for the USPS. When the USPS receives letters back that are labeled “Not at this address,” they are usually able to reroute the mail accordingly.
If the mail is deemed undeliverable, the USPS will handle these pieces of mail based on the item’s endorsements, which are listed on the mail by the sender. If there are no endorsements present on the piece of mail, the USPS can legally discard it.
A Final Thought
Dealing with mail still being delivered for a previous tenant can be a pain, and you may want to avoid it, but using the different ways listed above can help resolve the problem.
Sooner or later, you will have to deal with it, so why not make it sooner?