Stop Getting Mail for Previous Residents

Have you just moved cross country recently and noticed former residents’ letters and magazines in your mailbox? You should learn how to stop getting mail for previous residents because tossing it away can get you into a lot of trouble. Follow our guide on what to do when you get mail for previous resident and how to declutter your inbox correctly.

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November 26, 2020 Posted in How-to

What to Do if You Get Mail for Previous Resident

Whether you’ve just moved or you’re thinking about long-distance moving to the East Coast, West Coast, or anywhere else in the country, you certainly are aware that the US Post Office delivers more than 500 million packages and letters every day. Therefore, receiving someone else’s letters is a reasonable and acceptable mistake. If you know how to organize important documents at home, you’re aware of how important it is to receive your letters and bills. Moving to a different climate should not be an excuse for not dealing with the problem. We are aware that you already have a lot on your mind, and if you suffer from relocation depression, you surely don’t want to deal with someone else’s letters. But, knowing how to stop mail for previous residents when relocating and making sure that letter gets back to its intended recipient is among crucial moving tips and moving hacks.

Your checklist for moving to another state, among many other things to do before moving, should definitely include dealing with former tenants’ letters. Maybe a person relocating into your former home will have to deal with the same thing. And you indeed don’t want your essential letters being lost or tossed away. Therefore, this step is crucial when learning how to organize your move. Let’s see what you should do to stop receiving mail from previous resident and why you shouldn’t open or shred it. In case you’re moving after college, this is a perfect opportunity for you to learn more about the often Googled question “what to do with mail from previous resident USPS.”

A woman writing a moving to-do list
Use your moving to-do list as a reminder to settle the issue of receiving unwanted letters

What Do I Do With Previous Residents Mail? Did You Accidentally Break the Law?

Whether you’re moving to a smaller home or moving from apartment to house, throwing someone else’s letters is not just a bad idea but a serious felony. And there’s a pretty good reason for that. Many people receive confidential and personal documents through letters, which can be used to steal their identity. This year, seven people in Georgia were arrested for cashing the checks stolen from someone else’s letters. In 2018, one postal carrier failed to deliver thousands of letters that he later threw away, and he received felony charges. But even those who fail to forward the wrong letters they received could accidentally break the law. The main reason letters are being delivered to the wrong location is that former tenants or owners haven’t updated their own information correctly.

Important Information to Keep in Mind

In US law, the control of mail is addressed in the US Code § 1708. It enables a penalty and up to five years jail time for anybody who “buys, receives, or conceals, or unlawfully has in his possession” any letter that is simply not theirs.

However, it’s important to state that this law requires intent. Thus, you must know that the letters don’t belong to you to be charged with a penalty. You will probably be fine in case you accidentally open an envelope that isn’t labeled with your name. Yet, if you dispose of or destroy it because it’s addressed to someone else is evidence that you were aware the letters were not yours. And then you are in trouble.

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What if I Have the Authority to Open the Letters?

When you have permission from the intended receiver, it is acceptable to open the letters. The federal law addresses only those situations regarding unlawful receipt of letters. In case the addressee gave you the authority, you have every right to open it.

What to Do With Mail for Previous Resident When Obeying the Law

We have already mentioned that you should not open it unless you have permission to do so. To open a letter that is not labeled with your name is a federal offense in the US and considered a theft. In case you accidentally did open it, you should tape the envelope, write “not at this address,” and put it in the outgoing mailbox. You indeed have some leftover types of packing materials, and your tape will be useful in such a situation.

Don’t Throw the Mail Away

Do not throw away other people’s letters because that is also considered a form of theft. And if you do that, the sender won’t know that the person doesn’t live there anymore. The person who needs to receive it will simply never get it. Remember that the intended recipient will also never find out where the letters are. Maybe the former residents of your home had the situation of the last-minute move and have failed to update their address. You’ll help them out by not throwing those letters.

Don’t Fill Out the Address Yourself

If you picked up some tips and tricks on how to make friends in a new state and have met the former resident of your home, you might feel tempted to redirect letters by filling out the home number yourself in the post office. Even if you’ve moved to some of the cities with the best public transportation and visiting the local postal service will take no time, you should not do that. You have to be a former resident, guardian, executor, agent, or authorized officer to file the home number change. Otherwise, you’ll be again committing a federal crime and get a fine or be sent to prison.

A person holding the pen
Don't even think about filling out a change of address form for the former tenant

The First Step Is to Take All Things From the Mailbox That’s Addressed to the Former Resident

Then how can I stop mail from coming to my house? Get it all out and write “return to sender” or “not at this address” on the envelope and place the letters in the outgoing mailbox. You can also write “moved,” which will notify the postal service that the recipient no longer lives there. The original sender will then, hopefully, update all records, and you won’t get the letters. Individuals and smaller companies will respond to this quickly. However, larger companies rely on the NCOA database, and the only way clients can update their home number is by submitting a change of address form.

An image of mailboxes
To get rid of the unwanted letters, you first need to classify them

How Do I Stop Getting Old Tenants Mail? Cross Out the Barcode

Because the postal services are using the automated system, writing “return to sender” will not get the job done sometimes. The USPS prints a unique barcode on every letter, and the code itself corresponds to the home number it’s being delivered to. Due to that barcode, you’ll still receive those letters even if you’ve written that note on the envelope. That is why the USPS advises that, apart from writing “return to sender,” you should cross the barcode as well. You should also flip the envelope and see if there’s a barcode on the backside too. Scratching the barcode will notify the system to register the letter as “undeliverable.”

Another Method Is to Put a Sticky Note

One more way to stop receiving mail for previous residents is to put a sticky note inside or on the door of your mailbox, stating, “(former tenant’s name) doesn’t live here anymore.” This will be a continual reminder to the postal worker to look carefully at your incoming letters and hopefully shift the former tenant’s out. Keep in mind that sometimes postal workers won’t look at the former resident’s name on the letter. Thus, you should also leave an additional note on your door.

Yellow sticky notes
Put a sticky note for postal workers to make them aware of the fact that the former resident can't be reached at your address

File a Complaint With the Post Carrier

In case you’ve booked auto transport services, you can get in your car and drive to your local post office to file a complaint with your postal carrier. Ask them directly to stop sending former tenant’s letters and give one of the envelopes with a “return to sender” note. Hopefully, this might be more efficient than just writing the note. Additionally, talking with your postal carrier might encourage a more timely update.

Maybe former tenants can only stay in touch with their loved ones by exchanging letters, and now they simply don’t know how to cope with moving away from family. If you give your best to solve this problem and help them receive letters from their family members, the former tenants will quickly learn how to adjust to a new town.

Yellow traffic light
If you were wondering how do I stop someone using my address, you can simply go to the post office and talk to your postal carrier

How to Stop Getting Mail for Previous Residents if They Are Deceased

Opening and reading letters that belong to a deceased person is still a felony. In case you have to deal with this situation, visit the Direct Marketing Association website and click on the “Deceased Do Not Contact Registration” page. To stop receiving letters addressed to deceased people, enter their information on that page, including the name, home number, email, and the relationship you had with them. You’ll have to wait around three months for the changes to take place.

If you receive the letters sent to a deceased person, you can also write “deceased, return to sender” on the envelope and place it back in the outgoing mailbox. Remember to notify the postal worker about the former resident. In case these don’t work, visit the local post office and talk to the station manager.

If you’re receiving subscription services, magazines, and charities, you can contact those companies directly. Maybe this process will be more time-consuming, but it will surely get the job done. If you don’t want to call them directly, you can write a “deceased, return to sender” note on these items too.

Two white mailing envelopes
There are more ways than one to stop receiving letters from the deceased

Remember to Update Your Home Number With the USPS Before Your Relocation

Your letters may be causing a headache for someone else as well. Updating a home number is among things people forget when moving, especially if they are moving with children or are moving with pets. If you want to save the next resident of researching “what to do with mail from previous tenant USPS” – put this on your moving to-do list and notify the USPS as early as 3 months before the relocation or up to 30 days after you settle. We highly recommend doing this at least two weeks before the relocation date. If you need more information, check our guide on how to change your address when you move.

The Best Way to Move Is by Hiring Reliable Long-Distance Movers

If you’re still picking up some house hunting tips and are thinking about how to move efficiently, you should consider hiring a reliable long-distance moving company. Apart from dealing with things such as how to stop getting mail for previous residents, there will be a significant amount of moving-related tasks waiting for you. And trustworthy cross country movers with their long-distance moving services will help you relieve moving stress levels. You won’t have to worry about obtaining all those moving boxes and other packing materials for starters because these are part of the packing services. Also, in case your move-out and move-in dates don’t match, you can book clean and spacious storage units. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Share your troubles with the professionals, and they will make your moving experience as stress-free as possible.

Lucy Lucas

Born and raised in Miami Lucy is a content writer with a love of moving and packing. She is an expert at making sure everything fits into her suitcase.



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