Believe it or not, this comes up more often than anyone would guess. Knowing how to properly handle mail intended for a tenant, past or present, can help property owners avoid very unwanted legal trouble. There are serious legal implications for mishandling a tenant’s mail. But sometimes, unattended mail from former or even current tenants can become a serious issue. In such situations, property owners must take appropriate steps to legally handle situations of excessive or unwanted mail.
When a tenant moves out or leaves the property for long periods of time, what to do with their mail can quickly become a time-consuming hassle. Some tenants move out without providing a forwarding address or may go on vacation or travel for long periods of time without requesting an official hold from the local post office. When mail for an absent or former tenant is piling up, property owners must take action to prevent a small nuisance from becoming a big legal problem.
The United States government takes the matter of mail delivery very seriously. Under our current postal system, a citizen’s mail is considered personal property. It is delivered to them by authorized mail carriers and is intended only for those to whom the mail is addressed. Under federal law, taking or moving mail from the intended delivery location is considered a felony offense. So is preventing delivery by withholding a tenant’s mail, as well as opening, throwing away, or destroying mail not addressed to you. Known as mail tampering, any of these acts may result in criminal charges, fines, and even jail time.
So what should a property owner do to curb the tide of unwanted mail and prevent future tenants from tampering with former tenant’s mail? Because mail falls under the definition of personal property, it must be handled carefully. For example, if a tenant has moved out, a property owner could instruct a current tenant to write “return to sender” on the envelope and place it back in the mailbox for collection. Property owners could also write a note to the mail carrier, informing them that the addressee is no longer at the address and request that mail delivery to them stop.
However, if the tenant is currently under a lease but simply absent from the property for a vacation or other reason, handling mail delivery can become a bit more difficult. The best way to handle mail delivery during an extended absence is for the addressee to contact their local post office themselves and request a hold. If a tenant has failed to do so, the mail will continue to pile up, creating a potential legal nightmare for property owners. If a property owner collects and keeps the mail for the tenant and that mail becomes lost or damaged, the tenant could potentially accuse an owner of mail tampering. In such circumstances, the best thing for a property owner to do is to contact the Postmaster of the local US Post Office and request that mail delivery be temporarily suspended. If they are unable to deliver mail, usually a post office will hold the person’s mail at the office until they come and pick it up in person.
We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.