How to Handle a Former Tenant’s Mail with No Forwarding Address

At some point, most landlords will probably encounter a situation where one of their rental properties still receives mail for a former tenant. It can be frustrating, particularly when the previous tenant didn’t provide a forwarding address. So, how can you make sure the mail gets to the right person – and stop it from being delivered to your property?

Simple and Effective Ways to Stop the Mail from Being Delivered

There are several ways to put an end to the unwanted mail. The easiest is to write “return to sender,” “no longer at this address,” or simply “moved” on the outside of the envelope. The post office will make a note that the individual is no longer at that address and return the mail to the sender. Hopefully, whoever sent the mail will update their records and stop sending mail for that person to your rental. Generally, the post office is very efficient about updating their records, so eventually, all mail for that former tenant should stop.

If you’ve tried the first step but are continuing to receive the past tenant’s mail, you may need to leave a note for the postal carrier. It should say something like, “[former tenant’s name] is not at this address,” or “Please deliver mail to [current tenant’s name] only.” Most mail carriers will take note and quickly learn to sort out any mail that’s addressed to the former tenant. If you find the mail carrier is still delivering the previous tenant’s mail, you can speak to them directly or visit your local post office to put in a direct request. More often than not, the post office ultimately sorts out the issue.

It’s important to note that no matter what, landlords should never open a former tenant’s mail. Even throwing mail away could be considered mail theft, so even if it looks like junk, it’s best to have the post office deal with the issue.

What if You Need the Forwarding Address?

The larger problem for landlords is when they need to have the forwarding address to return a security deposit or take the tenant to small claims court. Tenants who owe their landlord money often won’t provide a forwarding address, while others may simply neglect passing it along. The simplest way to find the new tenant’s address is to again, turn to the post office.

Start by sending a letter to the tenant’s last known address. Write “address service requested” underneath the stamp. If the tenant filed a change of address within the past year, the post office can provide you with the new address for a small fee. Landlords can also file a Freedom of Information Act request to receive the address from the post office. You’ll be expected to provide your personal address, contact number, and pay for a fee for the information. You won’t be expected to explain why you want their address but providing a reason may give you a better chance of receiving it.

Other Methods for Finding the Former Tenant’s Current Address

You can also contact your former tenant’s emergency contact or references they had listed on the rental application. There’s always a chance that they won’t give you any information, but in the case of returning a security deposit, they may be happy to help. Be sure to be upfront on who you are, as it’s illegal for landlords to lie about their identity. Landlords can also call their former tenants at work to request their new address unless the tenant has explicitly stated that they are prohibited from doing so.

If there’s a possibility that the tenant is being sued, getting a divorce, or other legal matters, you may be able to find their new address through the court system. Some courts post public records online, while others may require you to fill out a form and pay a fee to search the records.

Depending on the state you live in, you may also be able to:

  • Request their new address from the Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Search online public voter registration records

  • View online phone books or white pages

  • Contact the utility company for the new address

Please note that these methods aren’t legal in every state, so you’ll want to read up on your local laws to make sure you’re taking the appropriate, lawful actions. If you’re trying to find the address to initiate court proceedings or send the individual to a collection agency, you don’t necessarily need the tenant’s new address. Some states allow you to sue the tenant at their workplace, while other states allow landlords to publish a public notice in the local newspaper. Regardless of whether you need to get ahold of the former tenant or would just like the unwanted mail to stop being delivered, it’s best to start by working with the post office. In most cases, they’ll be able to get the issue resolved with the least amount of effort from you.

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