Have you ever had a tenant move out of your rental property just for their mail to keep showing up? It’s a common problem among many property owners. 

Many tenants fail to provide a forwarding address to UPS and landlords. For property owners, it can be an annoyance, especially when you’re not sure what to do with the misplaced mail that shows up at the home. 

Plus, once you’ve cleaned the property and advertised it successfully, it can be annoying for the new tenants who move into the property. If you’re reading this, you may need help figuring out what to do with the previous tenant’s mail.

What Do You Do with Mail That Is Not Yours?

As a rental property owner, you may be stuck trying to figure out how to stop receiving mail from a previous resident altogether. Luckily, there are a few actions that you can take in order to prevent future mail. 

1. Return to Sender

The first action that you can take when a rental property of yours receives mail from a previous tenant is to leave the mail for the mail carrier with a note on the envelope saying “return to sender”, “no longer at this address”, or “moved”. You can also inform your new tenants to do this, as well. 

A variety of sizes and colors of envelopes

The mail carrier will then take back the mail and bring it to the post office where it originally came from. If the post office has a forwarding address for the previous resident, they will have the mail forwarded to the new address. If not, then they will send the mail back to the original sender. 

While this may work sometimes, there are roadblocks to this course of action. If there is a barcode on the envelope, then the post office will use an automated system when sorting through the mail. 

The barcode will correspond to whatever address the package is being mailed to, so even if you try to return the mail to the sender, the post office may end up sending mail back to your property. 

If this is the case, draw a line through the barcode and write “moved” or “not at this address” near it. Drawing a line through the barcode will make the mail “undeliverable” in the automated system.

2. Leave a Note

Another thing you can do to prevent this problem is to leave a note outside the mailbox stating that the previous tenant no longer lives at the home. The mail carrier will most likely see the note and sort the mail accordingly.

A United State Postal Service truck parked on the side of the road in a residential neighborhood

What to Do with Old Tenants’ Mail: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Why should I care about my previous tenant’s mail?

Beyond the general annoyance of receiving a former tenant’s mail, there are some logistical reasons that not having a tenant’s forwarding address can be a problem. 

First, if your previous tenant does not have a forwarding address, you won’t be able to send them their security deposit funds. It’s a good idea to include a clause about providing a forwarding address in your lease agreement, otherwise, a previous tenant might not be able to get their security deposit back. 

Second, if there turns out to be a legal issue involving the previous tenant, you will not be able to get ahold of them or locate them. 

Can I throw away previous tenants’ mail?

It is illegal to open, shred, or throw out a previous tenant’s mail, and the consequences for breaking this law are very real because it is considered a federal crime. You can serve up to five years in jail or pay an expensive fine. This is because tampering with an individual’s mail is theft in the eyes of the law. 

Yes, this even applies to junk mail from marketing and mailing lists. Overall, tampering with a previous tenant’s mail in any way is not an option. 

Three rows of small post office boxes

Can I fill out a new address form on behalf of a previous tenant?

While you may be tempted to handle the situation yourself and fill out a change of address form on behalf of a former tenant, you should not do this. To fill out a change of address form on behalf of another individual, you must be an executor, guardian, or authorized agent. Landlords may not do this on behalf of their tenants. 

Attempting to fill out a change of address form without the authority to do so is considered a federal crime, so while you may want to take matters into your own hands, you should not do it. 

What if the former tenant has passed away, resulting in me receiving their mail?

While usually the family or loved ones will handle their mail, this does not always happen. If you find yourself in a situation such as this, here is what you can do.

First, you can go to the Association of National Advertiser’s website and enter your former tenant’s name. This may not stop the mail entirely, but it will significantly cut down the amount of mail you receive that is addressed to the deceased tenant. 

Then, you can write “Deceased, return to sender” on the mail as you receive it. If these steps still don’t work, you can contact your mail carrier or local post office for further help. 

The back of a mail van full of stacked boxes and packages

Can the USPS help with mail for previous residents?

While it is entirely illegal for individual citizens to tamper with or destroy mail that is not addressed to them, the process will look a little different for the USPS. When they receive a letter back that has been labeled with a “not at this address” message, they will most likely be able to reroute that mail accordingly. 

If the mail is considered undeliverable, then the USPS will handle these items based on the endorsements that will be listed on the envelope by the sender. If there are no endorsements listed on the mail, then the USPS can legally dispose of the package. 

How to Stop Mail from Previous Tenants: Conclusion

While it can be a headache to deal with someone else’s mail being consistently sent to your rental property, it is always important to resolve the problem legally. The best course of action is to write “return to sender” on the envelope and let the post office take care of it. 

Using the different methods that we have listed above, you will be able to effectively handle the situation professionally, and hopefully, the constant stream of letters addressed to former residents will soon come to an end.