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I recently started renting and moved into a suburban house in the US where almost every day I receive other people's mail. It is addressed to one of six different past tenents for my address. For the first few weeks, I wrote "Return to Sender" on each of them and placed them back in the mailbox. I do not want to keep doing this as it feels like there should be a better way.

The mail I receive for these past tenants is a mixture of spam and seemingly important or direct mail. There have not been any packages so I am not concerned about that.

The USPS faq site has this to say about automatically refusing letters by name:

Without a specific reason to the contrary, mail sent to an address will be delivered.

Mail is delivered to residential or business addresses even if the name on the mailpiece is different than the known residents.

Refuse unwanted mail and remove name from mailing lists

Is there a way I can stop delivery or automatically reject these people's mail? Or what would be an efficient way to continue to reject these letters?

  • Hi Ell-ot, Welcome to Lifehacks. Have you asked your question of a USPS employee who would be the logical person to give you the proper procedure to follow for mail recipients not at your address? You, as the current official renter, are able to identify the current rightful occupants. – Stan Dec 27 '19 at 16:58
  • Possible duplicate of either lifehacks.stackexchange.com/q/19027/6994 or lifehacks.stackexchange.com/q/14664/6994 – Judith Dec 29 '19 at 16:15
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There are harsh legal requirements dealing with US mail.

In the US a lot of junk mail is delivered to Person Name or current occupant. If it says current occupant it's yours now...

Optimally each past tenant should have completed a change of address and filed it with the local post office. This can be done with a physical card that you get from the post office or online. Generally this only works for about 6 months.

In the US it illegal to do anything except return mail, that is not addressed to that Person

§1702. Obstruction of correspondence

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. source

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  • Note in particular the qualification with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another. – Weather Vane Dec 27 '19 at 19:53
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Return all undeliverable official mail (bearing a stamp and post-mark cancellation) to a Post Office official representative.

You, as the current legal renter, are able to identify the current rightful occupants.

Any other material that is placed into a post office receptacle is unauthorized and can be disposed as you see fit. (US and Canada) An apartment "mail slot" does not qualify as an official Post Office receptacle, however.

Better; Ask.

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Collect all the mail and give it to the landlord or letting agent periodically. Make no judgement between genuine and spam mail. If they don't know a forwarding address, then the previous tenants do not want to be found.

There is one worrying aspect, which is that some tenants are evicted for non-payment of rent, and they inevitably have other debts too. Some of the mail can be warning letters from creditors, final demands, or a court summons. The worst is a threat from bailiffs who say they have the legal power to arrive at the property and sieze possessions to the value of the debt.

So for that reason, I would open all mail that arrives (unless it is an obvious mis-delivery to a neighbour) before passing it to the renter. If there is a threat from bailiffs, you'll need to protect yourself somehow.

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    Please note that in several European countries it's illegal to open mail not addressed to you and represents a breach of the secrecy of correspondence. Since OP lives in the USA, this doesn't apply there, but I wouldn't want to let the advice to open other people's mail stand uncommented. – Elmy Dec 25 '19 at 9:41
  • It sounds like a breach of justice for law enforcement officers to enter/seize property just because the perpetrator used to live there. Can they really do that in Europe, with no recourse for the new occupants? – Lawrence Dec 25 '19 at 14:31
  • @Elmy yes, it is illegal in UK to open mail not addressed to you unless you can show reasonable excuse. If the previous occupant has not left a forwarding address, has not informed interested parties, and has not organised a mail redirection, and you have reason to believe that the mail is from creditors, that seems like a good reason to me. As mentioned, I am not suggesting you open mail that is clearly delivered by mistake. As you say, my statement in the answer is OTT. – Weather Vane Dec 25 '19 at 17:07
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    @Lawrence in UK bailiffs do have the legal power to seize certain (but not all) goods, if they have served the correct notices, and may enter the property to do so, but may only gain forecful entry with a court warrant. See What powers do bailiffs have? So if the previous tenant has not informed the creditor of a change of address, they have no reason to believe that another person lives there and demands for payment will go unanswered... – Weather Vane Dec 25 '19 at 17:08
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    Once, I arrived home on a Friday to find a bailiff's notice pinned to the door, addressed to a different house nearby with a similar address. It stated that they would gain entry and seize property. There was no answer from the phone number provided, so I had no choice but to cancel my plans and stay at home all weekend. The bailiff did not show up. – Weather Vane Dec 25 '19 at 17:08

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