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How Can I Stop Getting Someone Else’s Mail?

Postmarked mail, sticking out of a mail slot.

Is your mailbox often graced with the mail of the previous tenants of your home or apartment? Here’s how to get that misdirected mail out of your mailbox.

Forwarded mail sometimes slips through the cracks, and it only lasts for a certain amount of time. If the previous tenant didn’t change her address directly with a company, that mail is going to keep coming to the address on file.

There are a few things you can do to try to stop someone else’s mail from being delivered to your mailbox. If one doesn’t work, try the next. There’s no one guaranteed way, though—it often depends on your post office and carriers.

Return to Sender

Return to Sender is the best way to notify the party sending the misaddressed mail of their mistake. The idea behind writing “return to sender” on mail addressed to someone who no longer lives at your address isn’t that the post office will stop delivering it, but that the sender gets it back and removes your address from their system. This doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a shot.

You can write “return to sender” or “no longer at this address.” If you cross off the barcode, automated systems alert someone to look at the mail and, hopefully, see it’s being delivered to the wrong address.

Of course, when you place the mail back in your box, your carrier should see your note. With any luck, he’ll get the hint and stop delivering mail addressed to that name to your home. Carriers serve many homes, though, so it can be easy for them to forget.

If you’re tired of carrying all this mail inside only to have to carry it right back out again, you can Velcro a pen inside your mailbox. This makes it easier to write your note and leave the mail right there.

If you’re dealing with a serious deluge of mail, you might want to use a big, clear, red ink stamp to whiz through the pile.

Make a Sign

The postal service often puts a note inside mailboxes with the last names of the people who receive mail at that address. Carriers don’t always check those when they toss presorted mail into the box, though.

However, you can tape a sign to your mailbox that states either the last names of the people whose mail should be delivered there or the name of the former resident whose mail should no longer be delivered there.

Remove Your Address from Bulk Mailing Lists

If the mail you’re receiving is a bunch of junk mail, like flyers and catalogs, you can try to get your address removed from bulk mailing lists by reaching out to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA).

Sign up on their website to have more control over the mail that comes to you.

Contact Your Postmaster

If none of the above have worked, contact your postmaster and let him know about the issue you’re having. You can call or go to the postal location that services your address. If you have some of the ill-delivered mail with you, show them the issue.

The postmaster wants that mail to get to the right person as much as you want it to stop coming to you. They might have some further suggestions for you about reaching out with forms and phone calls to the places that are sending the mail.

What Not to Do

Trash can full of crumpled and scattered paper.
Y Photo Studio/Shutterstock

It’s frustrating enough when your mailbox is full of stuff addressed to you that you don’t want, let alone someone else’s mail. However, fight the urge you might have to open or trash it. Here are some things you shouldn’t do:

  • Don’t open it. Even when mail is delivered to your address, if it doesn’t have your name on it, it’s illegal to open it.
  • Don’t fill out a Change of Address Form. If the former resident didn’t have his mail forwarded, you can’t do it for him. A change of address is also only good for one year on priority and first-class mail, and 60 days on things like magazines. If he moved over a year ago, his change of address already expired. However, your postmaster can fill out a form to forward mail to previous tenants. If you have their new address, take it to the post office and put in a request with your local postmaster.
  • Don’t toss it. Although it can be tempting, throwing away someone else’s mail is the same as destroying it, which is also illegal. Also, if you toss it, you’ll continue to receive their mail. Instead, follow the “return to sender” instructions and put it back in the mail or drop it off at the post office.

Dealing with mail is a tricky business. When in doubt, take it to the post office or catch your carrier while she’s out making deliveries. If the mail is for a former roommate or significant other, you might be tempted to hand-deliver it to them. It’s still a better idea to go the “return to sender” route and get your postmaster involved to ensure any future mail goes to the right address.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »
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