How long is an old tenant’s mail my responsibility?

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RETURN TO SENDER By: di bo diCC BY 2.0
I’m a college student currently camping out for one year in a small studio apartment. The girl who lived here before was here for five years of grad school, so naturally she still gets a lot of mail.

Most of it has trickled off in the last six months, and I feel comfortable throwing out the coupon fliers and things (although I hate the wasted paper), but at one point I got a FedEx delivery where she had ordered something online and they’d used her old address. I also got what appeared to be a Valentine card for her, with no return address. Honestly, I feel like someone who was really involved in her life would know that she doesn’t even go to this school anymore (cue Mean Girls quotes).

But at what point do I give up on reuniting a former tenant with her lost mail?


What say ye, Homies?

Comments on How long is an old tenant’s mail my responsibility?

  1. I was just thinking about this. My past three rented places have been the sort that change hands every six months/year, and at my current apartment we receive mail for 3-4 unrelated people every day. Whenever I move I arrange for redirection and go around changing my address with as many organisations as I can remember it being with. It seems like the various couples who lived here never even tried. We get bank stuff, unpaid fine notices, and once there was a laptop computer. We used to be diligent about returning the letters to the senders, but it’s just too much, for too long (we’ve been here nearly a year, and I know most of the addressees aren’t the people who lived here before us), from too many people.
    Now if it’s bank statements (you can tell from the envelope) or campaign notices from their political affiliations or similar I throw it out. If it’s fine notices (can also tell from the envelope) I make the effort to send them back because they might honestly not know they have a fine. If it is something they’ve bought, I’ll try to find them on facebook or I’ll call the courier company. That said, the guy who sent his computer here (I found him through the university) was unbelievably rude.I would have been overwhelmed with relief if it was me.

    I take a similar attitude to you- I’m hoping that if it’s really important, then the person would know that this isn’t the correct address.

      • He turned up intoxicated and demanded that I return some garden tools he left behind at the apartment- he didn’t believe that I’d never seen them. He even tried to bargain with me to get them back. Then upon leaving he informed me that he hadn’t bothered to let his family in the states know that he’d changed addresses, so I should expect lots of presents to arrive since it was his birthday next month-could I please call him sooner next time?

  2. If you are in the US, you can simply write something along the lines of ‘no longer at this address’ and throw it back into the mail. The USPS should be able to take care of it from there. Most of the forwarding is automated through the post office now, but some mail does still sneak through – especially if you are living in a university town with high rental/turnover rates.

    • Yup, that’s what we do. We’ve lived in our apt for 2 years and we still get mail that’s not ours.

      If you do write “wrong address” or “no longer at this address” on the envelope, make sure you also take a sharpie through any bar codes on the envelope or it’s likely to end up coming right back to you through the automated mail sorter (we’ve had that happen).

    • By the way, you can also do this for mail you don’t want – you can write “refused” and then it goes back (at least in the States). I know in Germany you can also “refuse” parcels and then they automatically go back too. Not sure about enveloped-stuff.

    • You’d think they would, but whenever I did that at my last apartment the mailman just ignored the mail with the Sharpie on it and kept shoving new mail in my tiny box. I had to end up calling the post office about it.

    • No you can’t, the post office will not allow you to write through it and just drop it in the mail. I’ve done it and got a nasty letter stating I had to personally take it to the post office and hand off to them for any “return to sender”.

  3. As someone who’s been on both ends of this, I say don’t involve yourself any more than writing “Not at this address” on the envelope and dropping it in the outgoing mail.
    Legally, you shouldn’t KEEP or destroy any mail or parcel that isn’t your’s. However, it’s probably not going to be a legal kerfuffle for you because you can easily deny ever receiving it or can simply argue that you put it back into the proper channels and it got lost forever and ever in THE SYSTEM.

    If this is a bothersome and frequent occurrence and you have means of doing so, post a note on your box “Deliver ONLY pieces for -LAST NAME-” Theoretically, your mail carrier should only be leaving mail for persons with your last name, anyway.

    • In my senior year of high school I actually got a college propaganda piece of mail addressed to me… and a guy in my year who lived two houses down from me and had the same last name.

      Freak incidents aside, the last name on the box becomes a problem for people who’ve had name changes, or are responsible for an estate with (a) different last name(s), or use a pen name, or have multiple names in a household (as much as I wish that questions would not arise over that, they do). My household has three of the above. It’s also a problem for the post officer; legally, it’s best for her/him to deliver to the address listed.

      Further on the legal topic, I gathered from the OP that she/he was tossing “junk mail,” the majority of which is addressed to “X or current resident,” as the goal is to get someone to spend money, regardless of who does the spending, so legal problems there are unlikely. It is a good point, though, that those letters are someone’s property and the standard way of getting it to the proper location is simply writing “wrong address.” Further action is discretionary.

      • On the last name question: around here, all the mail carriers that deliver to “group” boxes (apartments, neighborhoods with one post box, dorms) actually post a little sign on the lip of the back of the box with the household’s last names. The mail carrier just checks the mail as it gets slipped in. They bounce back mail with a different last name, which is actually less of a liability for the USPS because then, no one opens anyone else’s mail and no mail gets “lost”.

        • We have that posted on our mailboxes in our complex that we have to have our name in the box to receive mail and yet we still get other peoples mail periodically.

    • I’ve put “[My last name/fiance’s last name] ONLY” in bold print on a label inside and outside of my mailbox and still get mail for the 7 other people who lived in the house before me on every single home I’ve lived in, and we still get every collection notice and catalog addressed to other people. I guess it only works if you have a postal carrier who pays attention.

  4. Ya know, in the grand scheme of things it’s a minor annoyance. Personally, I’d talk to the former resident and work out a solution with her. She could give you her e-mail address and maybe she’ll even offer to pay you for her own personal forwarding service. As for the Valentine, I’d suspect a senile grandma. I have two grandmas who think my birthday is in July. I was born in October. If I moved, or changed my phone number, I’d have to warn the next person that my crazy grandparents will wind up contacting them, heh.

    As for what I have done in this situation, I’ve contacted the previous owners and asked what they’d like done with their occasional mail. By doing this I got to learn about my home’s history. In the 90’s the bathroom would get so cold in the winter that the shampoo would freeze! (We installed a furnace, but in the summer our things melt in there!). I also learned that in the 60’s the bathroom walls had zebra stripes and there use to be a wall that isn’t here now. A man lived here with his wife and their one-year-old daughter in the 70’s. About 10 years ago a guy killed himself in my living room, and apparently a neighbor has a video of the paramedics bringing his body out of my house on a stretcher. My house was built in 1912, and learning about its history gives me a sort of sense of community with those who have called it home.

    Or you could just throw the mail out. You know, whatever 🙂

  5. I’ve bought myself a “wrong address” stamp for this very reason at an office supply store. I’ve never gotten fed-ex packages for an old tenant before, but I think I’d just take it back to a fed-ex store (or UPS or whatever) & let them deal with it. Granted, I am no longer a university student, and my home isn’t university affiliated (or even remotely near a university). I would definitely feel differently about this if I were still in dorms or student apartments/condos.

  6. As Offbeat Megan knows, this is my pet-peeve! We keep an apartment in LA, and are only there for short periods of time. Our mailbox is a tiny little box, and the postman will cram previous tenants mail (including huge Ikea Catalogs!) into our little box. I go through the mail every time I am in town and write, “Return to Sender/No longer at this address” on wrong mail, AND leave a note to the Postman to please only deliver mail addressed to our family name, but apparently that does not work in West Hollywood….I agree, this is very frustrating!!!
    Offbeat Megan’s Mom

  7. The US post office will forward mail for up to one year. I tend to go by that time-frame. If after a year you have not gotten your new address to everyone, it’s your fault not mine. Even after the year is up, I will “return to sender/no longer at this address” on anything that is handwritten and personal, just so the sender can track down the new address.

  8. The previous tennant at my last place was a ratbag! He kept getting mail from the police, repo companies, the courts, Inland Revenue. I wrote on the envelopes “this person no longer lives at this address. Forwarding address unknown.” Even the landlord didn’t know his new address because he’d done a runner from the property in the dead of night with rent unpaid. But the mail kept coming, even when I rang these organisations and told them. I was scared that one day when I was at work, repo men would smash open my door and take my stuff, or that the police would turn up and arrest me for harbouring a fugitive. Luckily that didn’t happen.

    • Ugh, I had a similar situation, but with a phone number. We had a new home line installed, and kept getting calls from an out of state court system. I even had a woman quite sternly tell me that if I was lying about this being the wrong number I could be held in contempt. Like she thought I was covering for this guy or something.

      • That happened to me in college! We were living in an on campus apartment and the former resident wasn’t paying her bill and the credit card company kept calling the landline in my roommate’s room at all hours and got to the point where it was harassment! My roommate actually put in her answering machine outgoing message “IF you are calling for Tia Taylor she no longer lives at this number.” A woman from the company left a really nasty message saying that we must know Tia since we know her name. My roommate called the company and spoke with a manager and finally convinced them to stop harassing us.

        • I received phone calls for TWO shady characters who’d previously had my landline number: a deadbeat dad (the court system kept making automated calls, so I had to send them a cease-and-desist letter) and a woman being pursued by a collection agency (they only stopped bothering me after I threatened to report the nuisance phone calls to the police).

          Lessons learned: 1. Never bother with a landline again (it didn’t work half the time anyway), and 2. use call-filtering software to block unwanted callers (worth every cent).

          • When I moved to a new area code and changed my cell number accordingly, I somehow got a new number that had once belonged to some guy with a bunch of outstanding debts. They called incessantly, at all hours, and would never believe that they had the wrong number. (Because, I guess, if you owed a bunch of money, you might lie and say it was the wrong number?) Finally, after some scary Jamaican called me at 5am looking for the guy to talk to him about “him depts” I called the phone company and demanded a new number. These were actual people calling that he owed money to, mind you, not collection agencies or companies….

          • Ah yes, the collections agency calls. We got a new landline when we moved 5 years ago and started getting collection agency calls for “Mario Suarez”. Whenever I catch one I’d tell them that I didn’t know who he was and they were always apologetic and said they would take my number off the list (I’m 99% sure this was racist of them since I don’t “sound” hispanic). Problem was every six weeks like clockwork someone would do a new online search for him and my number would pop up and I’d start getting calls again. It finally stopped after about 3 years but I don’t know if they finally tracked him down or what.

    • I’m so worried about this! The people that lived at our new house are in some serious legal trouble. They’ve skipped out on so many bills and fines and I’ve had everyone from Comcast to the police come here looking for them. I’m so worried that they’re going to show up and ransack our home looking for these people because we don’t and our landlord doesn’t have a forward address or any current contact info for them.

    • I had an ex-flatmate like this – not only did she skip the country three days before the rent was due, so I got hit with the whole sum, she ran up a load of debt with mobile phone, internet, and other companies, as well as skipped out on bank loans. I spent about a year returning letters and then explaining to debt collectors on the phone that she had screwed me over, too and if they tracked her down, I’d like her address, too, cos she owed me money. Then she had the nerve to send me a sob letter a year later looking for her winter coat that she left behind…

    • THAT happened to me. repo man, truck waiting to pick up my things, and neighbours watching . i had to show my id. and suffer a whole questionaire. they went away, eventually.

  9. We once rented from a landlord who moved out of the country. They employed a service to collect our rent and deal with repairs, but they didn’t bother changing their address and seemed to think it was our responsibilty mail or hand deliver all mail to the service office they were using to be returned to them. And you know, we may have been agreeable to helping them out had they maybe asked us, or put in the lease or something. But assuming we would either pay to mail their mail to the office or drive 20 minutes to drop it off was ridiculous. It was just one instance of what became a rather strained renter/landlord situation.
    In other places we’d try to send back mail that looked important, but other than that it went in the recycling.

  10. Generally if it’s something that looks like not-junk, I just scrawl “NOT AT THIS ADDRESS” on it and toss it back in the mailbox. Either it’ll go back to the sender or the post office will look up her change of address records and figure it out (I’ve gotten mail from previous addresses where someone had done that, so apparently it works.) We currently get mail for about four different former tenants…and given that I live in a house that my grandmother moved into about ten years ago, it’s some seriously outdated shit.

  11. So, what do you do if your postal carrier is just… not great at their job? We bought this house 3 years ago and STILL get mail for the previous owners. Not only that, we consistently get mail for people we’ve never heard of at completely different addresses. Not the same numbers but on a different street, but people who live in completely different neighborhoods. I don’t want to complain about the carrier for fear of retribution… bah!

    • I write a short note on a postcard informing anyone who sent something personal-looking (like wedding invites) that they have the wrong address. For companies I call them directly and just tell them to remove the address.

      As for the entirely wrong neighborhood… I imagine that’s primarily a problem with how it’s sorted at the mail center? Perhaps gathering signatures and taking it to them (instead of the carrier) will help things out. Maybe even a letter or two to local papers.

    • It’s better just to complain about the carrier. You can do so anonymously, more or less. Just mention the street or neighborhood you live in and explain the frequency. If they live in different neighborhoods, it’s a problem that stretches all the way up to sorting, so it’s worth reporting.
      Lesson I learned the hard way: if you’re accidentally getting other peoples’ mail, they’re getting your’s. And they might not be nice enough to put it back in the system. And that’s how I didn’t get my debit card once.
      Getting other peoples’ mail definitely happens, especially with a high volume of mail in an area, but you should expect that to happen a few times a year. Not a few times a month.
      And do forgive mail that’s physically stuck to other mail. I’ve had that happen… a lot.

    • We have this problem at my office. The mailman keeps getting our post office box number, and our area code mixed up. We get other people’s mail, and they get ours. One office is down the street so I just hand deliver their stuff most of the time.

  12. I am glad to hear we aren’t the only one with this problem! I say after a couple of months your obligation is done! We live in a neighborhood that is popular with college students. We’ve lived here for 2 years and still get mail for multiple former tenants. I used to put “Wrong address” on every piece of mail but now I only do it if it looks important which still happens occasionally. I’ve only gone out of my way to do something with a piece of mail once. When we first moved in we got a letter from a school informing the family what bus the child would be riding. I called the school to let them know that family no longer lived at that address. I’m a teacher so I understand what a pain it is when families don’t update their info like that.

  13. For coupons and flyers, you can add the old tenant’s name to the “no mail list” online at It really only takes a few minutes, and you are making a difference by reducing the amount of paper that gets thrown out!

  14. I get mail for about 5 different people at my house, and I’ve lived here for a year and a half. I just put “not at this address” on the front and put it in the post box. Never had a parcel though, just envelopes. At my last house, the police came looking for a former tenant there, and we had no idea who they were.

  15. We moved about 6 months ago into an apartment where the previous tenants had been in the unit for 2+ years. Even so we were getting mail addressed to at least 5 different people and was crushing our mail daily :O I did the “no longer at this address” thing for about a month but the mail kept coming. Important stuff like bills, IRS notices and such.

    What worked for us is a phone call to our delivering post office. I spoke with a supervisor and politely explained the problem. Next day our carrier taped a note in the back of our mail box to remind the carriers on our route that only mail addressed to us is correct. So far we’ve only had one errant piece slip thru. They have no way of knowing for sure who lives there if we don’t tell them apparently. The phone call worked.

  16. I live in a college town, also. I keep a pen in our mail box, and when a piece of important-looking mail comes in for someone else, I just write “MOVED” on it, and send it back out. Short, sweet, and to the point.

  17. 6 months (or even up to 12).

    I’d expect the old tenant to come by in the first two months to pick up mail. After that, I’ll keep stuff that has no return address on a pile. Mail with return address is returned with ‘addressee moved’ written on it. I have no mercy with junk mail from day 1. Just my rules 🙂

  18. Old tenants’ mail is their responsibility, not yours (although attempting to send their mail on to them is very kind).

    Upon moving into a new place, I use a fat red Sharpie to write “moved, please forward” on all personal mail addressed to previous tenants. (I use red ink because certain post offices don’t seem to notice plain black ink.)

    When I got junk mail for previous tenants, I did the same thing that I did for junk mail addressed to myself: I called the mailer and requested removal, then tossed the material in the recycling bin.

    Incidentally, I worked in the mail room in college. Once a student moved out, all of their mail was returned to sender. We just didn’t have the capacity for mail forwarding.

    BTW, I no longer accept ANY mail (real or junk) at my home address. Too many problems with the postal service, including a genuinely psychotic carrier who harassed me, and several who blatantly stole incoming mail. I use a private mail drop instead ($15 a month and well worth it, since I sometimes travel for work). Since they are not authorized to receive mail for former customers who previously had my box number, I never have this problem anymore, because any such mail is returned to sender.

    • I had one of those boxes and now I’m on the other end of a nightmare- I can’t get my mail forwarded and my former mailbox holder is shredding my old mail. I’m going to have to visit the post office and the mail box holder. They were fed-exing me everything from the box (categorizes and junk mail included) and I stopped that, but I might need to restart that just to make sure I don’t miss anything important!!

  19. P.S. I have never been in the position of having a previous tenant’s new contact information, so calling them and offering to send their mail on has never been an option.

  20. The worse part of this is when you get excited coz there’s mail in the letterbox and it turns out its not for you!

    At my old sharehouse this used to happen all the time-I think there were 3 or 4 different names we’d occasionally get junk-ish mail for, plus our landlords sometimes got things delivered to our house too (turns out they lived down the street but we weren’t supposed to know that, so had to take the mail to the real estate agent to pass on). Was annoying but we were only there for a year. But you have to give your address for so many things these days- after moving state earlier this year I had some problems with the Cancer Council calling me, saying they’d had some certificates for me sent back 3 times…for an event I hosted 6 months ago…whoops!

  21. Like several other people have said I write ‘Return to sender, no longer at this address” and send it back out. I honestly don’t know what’s happened after that but I’ve never gotten the same letter twice and the total amount has steadily dropped so I assume somewhere along the line it’s dealt with.

    Oddly enough I’ve never had a forwarding address for people who lived in a place before me. Although where I am now it would not suprise me at all if they actually did leave one and the estate agent lost it or couldn’t be bothered to look it up when I asked.

    Partially as a result I went completely the other way when we moved. I changed my address with every company/organisation I could remember getting post from, set up a forwarding arrangement with the postal service, told my landlord AND left a note in the kitchen with our new address.

    • My mum left a note in the kitchen when we moved from our last place, but the new tenants didn’t forward a thing, so either we contacted all the right people, or they didn’t bother.

  22. As other people have said, I’m glad that I’m not the only person with this problem! I moved into my current flat two years ago and I still get post for tenants that lived here over three years ago. The postbox is on my way to work so I write ‘NOT KNOWN AT THIS ADDRESS’ on the front and chuck it back in the system.

    It might be worth having a word with your postie/mail delivery person. My street used to have a great and cheerful postie. One morning he knocked on our door to check that he was giving us post for the correct people (LSS: my partner runs a business from home and gets post for his business partner who does not live for us). That did put a stop to random mail for a while.

  23. If it is junk mail I toss it, but I never really get mail for other people. However, my Dad works at my post office and most of the carriers know me personally or my name at least, so they fix these things for me. However, I make sure my address is up to date on sites I order from because if it some other delivery service I might not be so lucky.

  24. I ended up collecting roughly 4-5 former tenants mail over the first 4 months at my new apartment. I then just walked the entire pile over to the local post office and said I had a stack of old tenants mail that needed returned to senders (or forwarded). They also gave me a blank label to stick on the inside flap of my mailbox (I wrote my name and address), which alerts the mail person to only drop in mail with my name on it. In the 2 weeks since I’ve done that, I haven’t received a single piece of mail for anyone but me!

    As far as responsibilty goes, I agree with many of the posters on here. I might not have bothered until I started getting things that looked like legal notices and other sensitive information. I felt like I should at least make an effort at that point, esp. since I live so close to a post office.

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