Decoding Landlord-Tenant Duties: What to Do with Mail from Previous Tenant Periods

Rental owners and newly-moved-in tenants have a legal responsibility to handle their previous tenant’s mail with care. Learn how to do so legally, from how to get it to the intended recipient to how to get your own mail from an old place.

By
Vivian Tejada
|
Last Updated
January 9, 2024
Decoding Landlord-Tenant Duties: What to Do with Mail from Previous Tenant Periods

Moving from one apartment to another can be a hectic time for tenants and landlords, leaving little to no time to think about mail that was left behind. However, landlords should know that handling their previous tenant’s mail responsibly is important.

Physical mail could contain important or time-sensitive information that needs to make its way to the recipient. Not only is it common courtesy, but it’s also a landlord’s legal obligation to make a reasonable effort to ensure a tenant receives their mail. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss what to do with a previous tenant’s mail, how to stop receiving their mail, and whether or not filling out a change of address form on behalf of your previous tenant is a good idea. We’ll also discuss how tenants can recuperate mail sent to a previous address, as well as the importance of following local laws and keeping accurate records.

What can a landlord do with a previous tenant’s mail?

Rental owners have a few options regarding what they can do with mail from a former tenant. Take a closer look at what to do with previous tenants' mail below:

Contact the tenant

The fastest way to make sure a previous tenant receives their mail is by contacting them directly. Calling would be easiest, but if you’d like to leave a paper trail of your efforts, emailing them would be best. Documenting your communication with a previous tenant is a good idea, especially if they were forgetful or troublesome during their stay.

Forward the mail

Property owners who are unable to contact their previous resident but have their new address can simply forward the mail. However, if you don’t know where your previous tenant currently lives, you should write "Not at This Address," "Return to Sender," or "Forwarding Service Requested" on the same envelope or package. 

You can then put the mail back in the mailbox or drop it off at the post office. From there, the mail carrier will update its records and either return the mail to the sender or forward the mail to your tenant. In either case, you should eventually stop receiving your former tenant's mail.

Store the mail

Property owners who don’t live on-site or have lost their previous tenant’s information may not be able to forward the mail or contact their tenant. In these cases, mail should be stored in a safe location until the former tenant can pick up their mail or have it forwarded.

If you’re receiving more than one previous tenant’s mail, make sure to label the mail with the former tenant's name to avoid confusion. 

Dispose of the mail

If after a couple of months, your previous tenant hasn’t reached out about their mail and you’ve documented efforts to contact them, you should be able to dispose of junk mail. It’s important to check local laws regarding how long you need to wait before getting rid of a tenant mail to avoid issues in the future.

Shredding is the best way to discard mail, because it protects the privacy of the intended recipient. Under no circumstances should you open someone else’s mail, as this is a federal crime. 

How to stop receiving a previous tenant’s mail

Continuously receiving mail addressed to a previous tenant is a problem for both the property owner and the tenant. The simplest way to stop receiving mail that isn’t yours is to contact your previous tenant and ask them to update their mailing address with the post office. Rental owners can also call their local post office and let them know that the tenant has moved. 

Can landlords fill out a change-of-address-form for a previous tenant?

While it may be tempting to help your previous tenant by filling out a change-of-address-form on their behalf, don’t do it. Only the previous tenant or other authorized agent can file a this form with the postal service. Similar to opening mail that isn’t addressed to you, filing a change-of-address-form without consent is a federal crime. 

How do I get my mail from an old apartment?

Tenants who need to recuperate lost mail may be tempted to pass by their old apartment and search for their mail, which could land them in serious legal trouble if new tenants have moved in. Tampering with another person's mail is a federal crime — do not go through a mailbox that isn't yours under any circumstances.

Instead, contact your previous landlord so they can locate your mail on your behalf through legal means. You should also fill out a change-of-address-form or set up a forwarding address as soon as possible to make sure future mail gets delivered to your new address. 

The importance of following local laws and keeping records 

Dealing with someone else's mail may seem like a trivial task for a rental owner, but it’s important to handle it properly. Neither property owners nor new tenants are allowed to throw away mail that doesn’t belong to them. Property owners should tell their new tenants to handle the previous tenant’s mail with care until either the landlord or the previous tenant can pick it up. 

Landlord-tenant laws regarding tenant mail vary from one state to another. Some states require landlords to store mail for a certain amount of time, while others have no timelines regarding storage. Familiarize yourself with local regulations to ensure proper mail handling. 

The bottom line on handling mail from a previous tenant 

Rental owners should know that their responsibilities as landlords don’t end immediately after a tenant moves out. If you find yourself wondering what to do with previous tenants' mail, you should either contact them to pick it up or forward the mail. Not only is it an act of good faith, but it's also part of the professionalism that comes with owning and renting property. 

Sometimes property owners aren’t able to get the mail to their previous tenant. In these cases, rental owners should store the mail for some time before shredding it. If you own property in a state or municipality that has specific procedures regarding mail handling, make sure to document your efforts to contact your previous tenant and forward their mail. 

You should also wait for the designated time before disposing of the mail. Whatever you do, do not open a previous tenant’s mail or fill out a change-of-address form on their behalf. Doing either is illegal and could result in hefty fines.

Vivian Tejada

Vivian is a freelance real estate writer based in Brooklyn, NYC providing SEO blogging services to real estate companies. Her work focuses on educating first-time real estate investors on investment strategy and explaining proptech tools to new customers.

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