One of the most common parts of moving into a new home or apartment is receiving someone else’s mail.
Your first instinct may be to throw it away.
Not only is that illegal, but you could face serious jail time.
If you’re getting someone else’s mail, then here’s what you’re supposed to do with it.
Getting Mail For Someone Who Doesn’t Live Here (What To Do)
There are five different things you can do when you receive someone else’s mail.
Follow these steps to ensure you’re not punished by the government for tampering with someone else’s mail.
1. Write “Return To Sender”
When you receive mail that belongs to someone else, you’ll find that the address is the same, but the recipient is different.
The upper left-hand corner of the letter will have the sender’s information.
One of the things you should do with the mail is to write “return to sender” on it.
The best way to do this is with a sticky note.
It ensures that the ink of your ink or marker doesn’t bleed through the envelope and damage the mail inside it.
You can even tape the sticky note on the envelope if you’re worried about it falling off.
“Return to Sender” tells the post office worker that the letter can’t reach the person it’s addressing.
They need to return it to the sender.
When the sender receives their mail back, they may attempt to post it to your address again.
One of the reasons they might send it back to you is that they believe the post office made a mistake.
If that happens, then write “return to sender” on the envelope again and put it back in your mailbox.
Raise the flag to indicate that the post office worker needs to pick the mail up from it.
After a few more attempts, the sender will realize that they have the wrong address for the person they’re attempting to contact.
They’ll make the corrections.
The post office will stop sending mail, too, if they notice that’s it happening continuously.
2. “Not At The Address” Label
Instead of writing “return to sender,” you can also write, “Not at the Address.”
This acts similarly to the other method except it gives the sender more information.
When the sender receives the envelope back with only “return to sender” on it, then they may not understand why.
They might think it’s a mistake or that they put incorrect postage.
As a result, they send the mail back to you with the corrections they believe they needed to make.
If you put “Not at the Address” on it, then the sender will realize that the person they’re trying to contact isn’t at that address.
They’ll stop sending the mail and instead look for the new address for their recipient.
This label is also helpful for the post office.
It can tell them that they need to stop delivering mail addressed to that particular individual.
It can prevent further mail from showing up at your home that’s addressed to that particular individual.
Like with the previous method, the best way to write “Not at this Address” is to do so on a sticky note.
Then attach the sticky note to the envelope and place the mail back inside of the mailbox.
Raise the flag to alert the postal service carrier that they need to pick up your mail.
3. Speak With Your Landlord
If you’re renting, then it’s a good idea to speak with your landlord if you keep receiving mail for the previous tenant.
The landlord can sometimes take the mail for you and return it themselves.
They may even know the new address for the tenant and forward it to them on your behalf.
At the very least, making your landlord aware of the situation can encourage them to remind other tenants to change their addresses when they move.
4. Speak With The Postal Office
Locate your local post office and visit them.
You can bring the mail with you.
Hand it to them and tell them that the addressed person doesn’t live at the address any longer.
The post office worker can make the correction.
They’ll return it to the sender.
Speaking with them about keeping an eye out for the person’s name in the future can also encourage them to stop mail addressed to someone else from reaching your door.
However, the post office is an extremely busy place.
They’re sure to make mistakes and miss a few letters in the dash to get everything where it belongs.
The best you can do is be patient with them and help them do their job by marking the mail that doesn’t belong to you with a note.
5. Deliver The Mail Yourself
If you happen to know where the previous tenant lives, then you can always take them their mail yourself.
Sometimes the mail isn’t for a previous tenant.
It could be for your neighbor.
Pay close attention to the address to see if it matches your own.
If it doesn’t, then you can always choose to deliver the mail yourself.
You shouldn’t do so, however, if you don’t feel safe.
At most, you can drive down to their address and put it in their mailbox for them.
You don’t need to approach them in their home or have contact with them.
If you know the sender’s address, then you can also choose to return the mail to them.
Speak with a customer service representative or the sender about the address change.
Since you met with them in person, they’re more likely to update their mail listings faster as a result.
This method also extends to packages.
If you receive someone else’s package, then you should try to deliver it to the person yourself.
You also don’t need to contact the person.
You can write a small note explaining that the package went to your house instead, and then leave it at their front door.
If you’re uncomfortable about finding the addressee, then you can use any of the previous methods to legally return the letter to its sender instead.
What Shouldn’t You Do If You Receive Mail That Isn’t Yours?
Now that you know what you should do if you get mail for someone who doesn’t live there anymore, you need to know what not to do.
These are a few things you should not do if you receive mail that isn’t yours.
1. Don’t Open Mail
It’s a natural habit to open the mail immediately.
You may not even look at the recipient all that often.
You only read who it’s from and open it.
That can cause a problem.
If you open someone else’s mail, then you committed a crime.
There are both federal and state laws that apply to opening someone else’s mail.
According to US Postal Code 1708, if you tamper with someone else’s mail, you can spend up to five years in jail or expensive fines.
There’s a little bit of leeway if you open mail accidentally.
However, proving that it was accidental isn’t always easy.
If you’re honest with the police, then you may be able to get off with a severe warning or a small fine.
If you know that the mail doesn’t belong to you, then it’s essential that you don’t open it.
Mail often contains information about identity.
It’s possible to steal someone’s identity information from their mail.
That’s why the federal has strict punishments in place for it.
If you receive someone else’s mail, then send it back to the sender as soon as possible and don’t open it.
2. Don’t Throw Away The Mail
Another instinct you might have is to throw away the mail that doesn’t belong to you.
Even throwing away what’s clearly garbage mail is illegal.
Because it isn’t important to you doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to the actual addressee of the mail.
Throwing it away tampers with the addressee’s ability to receive their mail.
You’ll receive a guilty charge of tampering with mail and either a jail sentence or a fine.
If you don’t want it in your house overnight, then write “Return to Sender” or “Not at this Address” on it, and put it in your mailbox.
The post office worker will pick it up the next day.
You can also drive over to your post office if they’re open and have them take care of it immediately.
Read each envelope to ensure it’s meant for you.
Don’t throw it away if it isn’t.
3. Don’t Cross Out Or Block Out Recipient’s Name
If you intend to tamper with the mail, then you may use a pen or marker to cross out the recipient’s name.
This will not keep the government from being able to identify who the mail belongs to.
They have methods that can restore the name.
You might also choose to cross out the name when you send it back to the sender.
This is also problematic because the sender won’t be able to tell who they were trying to reach.
They won’t be able to correct themselves.
Neither will the post office.
If they can’t read the name, then they can’t update their mailing lists.
Crossing out the recipient’s name is also a form of tampering with the mail.
It can earn you a jail sentence or a fine.
Protect the name of the recipient in the mail so that the matter can be resolved quickly.
4. Don’t Tamper With Envelope Or Box
If you receive an envelope or box that doesn’t belong to you, then you should try to handle it as little as possible.
You can’t be sure what kind of journey the envelope or box has had.
It could accidentally tear or fall apart in your hands.
As a result, it can look like you were tampering with the mail.
You should also refrain from writing on the envelope.
If the ink seeps inside of it and makes it difficult to read the contents, then a court may find you guilty of tampering with the mail.
If you want to write “Return to Sender” or “Not at this Address” on it, then you should do so with a pencil.
The graphite won’t bleed through the paper.
It can poke holes into the envelope, however, which might cause the court to believe you attempted to peer inside of the envelope or package.
Be gentle with the package or envelope to decrease the chances of accidentally damaging it.
5. Fill Out A Change Of Address For The Recipient
At some point, you may feel so frustrated about receiving someone else’s mail, that you may want to fill out a change of address form for the recipient yourself.
You can only fill out a person’s change of address form if they have given you permission to do so.
Since it’s unlikely that you know the recipient’s new address, the information on the change of address form is likely to be wrong.
Knowingly sending someone’s mail to a false address is also a crime.
The best thing that you can do is encourage third parties to remind the recipient to update their address.
The post office, the sender, and your landlord are all ideal people to speak to in order to have them encourage the recipient to submit a change of address form.
When Should You Change Your Address With The Post Office?
You don’t want your mail to get left behind.
It’s a good way to miss out on important information sent to you from your doctor, insurance companies, or even your work.
Changing your address through the post office is a great way to forward mail to your new address for a period of time.
The post office recommends changing your address two weeks before your move-in date.
You can do it as early as three months before you move and as late as 30 days after you move.
Your change of address will remain in effect for 12 months.
Newspapers and magazines are only forwarded for 60 days.
There is a small fee to change your address.
That’s because it costs the post office extra time and effort to forward your mail to you.
That fee is $1.05.
It costs the post office $1.5 billion to redirect mail.
They want you to change your address, so they don’t have to keep returning mail to the sender.
Besides moving, you can also fill out a change of address form if something else changes.
For example, maybe you got married and had a name change or something in your address is incorrect.
How To Fill Out A Change Of Address Form
Filling out a change of address form is quick and easy.
Follow these steps to do it the right way to ensure your mail isn’t sent to someone else.
1. Go To USPS Website
On their homepage, you’ll see a section for Change Your Address.
Click it, and it will bring you to the Change Your Address form.
2. Choose Your Option
You’ll have a few different options once you access the form.
You can submit changes to your Change Your Address form or start a new one.
3. Enter The Required Information
The form will ask you for your new address and the names of others who are living there.
If you want to check on the state of your Change of Address form or change it, then you’ll need the zip code of your new address and the confirmation number that the USPS sent you.
This number was either sent to your email or your new address when you first submitted your Change of Address form.
4. Submit Form
Once you fill out your new information or make the necessary changes, you can submit the form.
You’ll also pay the cheap $1.05 at this point.
If you’re seeking to cancel a Change of Address, then you’ll need to provide some form of identification at this stage.
Either a driver’s license or utility bills will suffice.
Once you hit submit, your Change of Address is in effect for your scheduled move-in date.
You should never throw away, open, or tamper with someone else’s mail.
It can send you to jail or land you with a hefty fine.
Follow the steps above to return the mail the correct way and change your address to ensure your mail follows you to your new address.