How to Stop Getting Other People's Mail (2023 Guide)

Learn how to work with your Post Office to stop getting mail from previous residents at your current address.

While your parents may have taught you how to do your laundry and make toast, there’s one life lesson that was overlooked: What to do with mail from a previous tenant or resident. Whether you’ve moved into a new home, condo, or apartment, the problem is universal. You almost always end up with piles of other people’s mail. 

This is especially irritating when you get home at the end of the day and open up the mailbox, expecting a big birthday check or tax document. Nope! Instead, you receive yet another credit card offer for Bob Nobody who owned your house five years ago.

Not only are you let down, you’re now also saddled with Bob’s credit card offer and a growing pile of other Bob letters spilling out of your recycling. You wish you could just call Bob and tell him to change his address, but you don’t have his contact info. You don’t even know if he’s still in the state! 

Not to worry. By the time you’re done with this guide, you’ll have a fool-proof plan on how to stop getting Bob’s mail—and perhaps even a few more mail convenience secrets! Let’s dive in.

How to Stop Getting Other People’s Mail (2023 Guide)

Why do I receive other people's mail?

The answer is actually quite simple: because your address is on the envelope. According to the USPS, “Without a specific reason to the contrary, mail sent to an address will be delivered.” (1) In other words, it doesn’t matter whose name is on the envelope. If you live at 123 Main Street, you’re getting all mail addressed to 123 Main Street—even if it’s addressed to the President. 

Usually, the strange names on your mail belong to previous tenants of your house or apartment who didn’t complete the process of updating their address. It’s always possible that mail simply got misaddressed, but in those situations, it’s often someone else nearby—especially if you live in an apartment building with similar unit numbers. 

The important thing to remember is that you’ll rarely receive someone else’s mail on purpose. If a previous resident forgot to update their address, it’s annoying—but rarely malicious. That said, a mailbox overflowing with letters, bills, and advertisements for someone you’ve never met can be a hassle. Luckily, there are multiple ways to stop the invasion.

How do I stop getting mail for previous residents?

To stop getting mail for previous residents, you’ll need a multi-pronged approach. Fully fixing your mail problem might take more than one of these methods, but if you’re just getting started, here are a few ways you can keep your mailbox reserved only for your mail. 

1) Talk to the Post Office

Sometimes, you just have to go straight to the source. The most effective way to stop receiving mail for previous residents or strangers is to talk to your local Post Office. Most of the time, you’ll be able to quickly resolve any issues by listing your household members as the only people who should receive mail at your address. If your nearest Post Office isn’t actually nearby, you can also write a letter! 

Nine times out of ten, this solution works like a charm. However, if that one time happens to be you, you can always file an official complaint with USPS Form 1500. (2) These forms were created for harassment issues, but if you’re being overwhelmed with mail that isn’t yours, they get the point across with a little more umph

2) Use mail refusal 

Inundated by unwanted mail? It turns out, you don’t have to accept every piece of mail that comes to your door. As long as a piece of mail remains sealed, you can simply mark it “Refused” and leave it in the mailbox the following day. You can do this by either writing “refused” on the piece of mail or on a sticky note. You can also check the “refused” box if you’re dealing with a delivery notification.

The mail refusal method, however, isn’t always the most comprehensive because it only refuses mail from that sender, not mail to the wrong recipient. This makes mail refusal an excellent solution for turning away advertisements or persistent marketers, but not always an ideal solution for mail for a previous tenant.

That said, if you’re also in the market for a plan to deal with an onslaught of political ads or credit card offers, mail refusal can be your best friend. Just keep in mind that you can’t refuse mail once it’s been opened. 

3) Add a note to the mail or your mailbox

While mail refusal is a good universal solution, sometimes it doesn’t quite drive the point home. If a particular sender is tenacious, you may need to write, “NO LONGER AT THIS ADDRESS” on the envelope and put it back in your mailbox. Hopefully, that gets you off of their mailing list once and for all.

However, if the source isn’t budging, one of the easiest ways to avoid getting their mail in the future is to simply put a note inside your mailbox for your postal worker. Sometimes, all it takes is an all-caps sticky note reading “JOHN SMITH DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE” to keep John’s mail out of your hair. 

If you’re still having trouble after that, you might try adding the names of your own household to your mailbox. Emphasizing who does live in your house is often as effective as highlighting who doesn’t.

4) Forward the mail 

Forwarding other people’s mail is a last-resort solution, but it does take the mail off your hands. If you know the new address for the previous tenants, you can go ahead and forward the mail via the Post Office at no extra charge. If you don’t know the address, you can follow the same procedure! You’ll simply write “moved with no forwarding address” on the forwarding address slip.

What do I do with mail that isn't mine?

Stopping unwanted mail is one thing, but what about strange mail you’ve already received? Chances are, your first instinct is either to toss or open that mail—but you shouldn’t. Let’s get into why, and what you should do instead!

Can I throw away the previous tenants’ mail? 

Technically yes, but we advise against it. While it’s not a crime to throw away someone else’s mail, it’s also not a great idea. We all receive plenty of junk mail, but some pieces are essential and throwing them away could lead to lost communication with a loved one or even financial penalties on a late bill. 

You wouldn’t want anyone throwing away your mail without your consent, so don’t toss someone else’s. Take a few moments and either return to the sender, or leave it with someone who knows the previous resident and can get it to them (perhaps with a sticky note reminding them to file a change of address with the post office!).

Can I open the previous tenants’ mail? 

Nope! Opening other people’s mail is a federal offense and opening someone else’s packages can be legally defined as stealing. Granted, unless you’re making a habit of this crime, you’re unlikely to face any major consequences. However, it’s best to avoid any sticky mail theft scenarios and simply return the envelopes to the Post Office. 

The best way to do that is to write “return to sender” or “wrong address” on the mail and place it back in your mailbox for your mail person to pick up the following day. 

Can I fill out a change of address for the previous tenant? 

Absolutely not. It’s tempting to fill out a change of address if you know where the previous tenant currently lives, but it’s a crime and akin to identity theft. You can always reach out to the previous tenants and ask them to follow through on a change of address, but it has to be done by them. In the meantime, just keep returning unwanted mail to the Post Office. Trust us, it’ll save you a lot of trouble in the long run. 

Are you obligated to return mail that isn’t yours? 

Legally, no. You are not obligated to return mail that isn’t yours. However, what else are you going to do with it? You can’t open it and tossing it isn’t going to stop it from coming. The best way to both stop the influx of unwanted mail and make sure it gets to the right person is to redirect it. It’s a win-win for everyone! 

Eliminate other people’s mail with a virtual mailbox or mail forwarding service.

We may be biased, but hands down the best way to ensure you stop receiving other people’s mail is to use a virtual mailbox and mail forwarding service like Traveling Mailbox

With a virtual mailbox, you’ll get a unique address that follows you, instead of having to share an address with any previous residents of your new home. Plus, it’s simple to screen your mail in our online portal before it ever comes to your door. If you see any mail that doesn’t belong to you, all you have to do is flag it—we’ll take care of the rest. 

Best of all, with Traveling Mailbox, you don’t even need to deal with your unwanted mail. Credit card offers? Advertisements? Those are problems of the past. Simply select them for shredding in your portal and wave goodbye. 

Try Traveling Mailbox today and receive your mail on your terms.

  1. USPS Mail Refusal,
  2. Form 1500,