Return to sender

What are my ethical and legal obligations for returning mail for the previous tenants ? I feel there is no ethical obligation for me. The previous tenants could not be bothered to go to the post office and re-direct their mail. Screw them!
I am only sending back their mail for self-interested reasons. I hope that if I write ‘return to sender’ on enough of their mail I will finally get rid of the inconvenience because businesses will finally stop sending that mail to the previous tenants. And I hope that it will stop their debt-collectors knocking on my door.
I live in Melbourne, Australia.

How long have you lived there? We’re still getting mail for what I assume are previous tennants, and we’ve now been in the house more than 6 years!

I used to add return to sender on it, but they never actually changed the addresses. After three years of receiving the same set of companies (some Star City magazine, some superannuation thing and some builders thing), and adding return to sender (probably as many as 10 times for each sender), I just gave up.

I have lived here only 2 months. I lived at the last place for almost 3 years.

Actually, they might have filled out the change of address form, but the companys they do business with might not be sending the mail to the correct address. The post office only forwards mail to your new address for a certain period of time, I do believe. (I might be mistaken on that.) It might not be the old tenants fault at all, really. It might just be faults in the system from one side or the other sending the mail your way.

ETA: Look at all the mail addressed to dead people that relatives still recieve as an example. Even after telling the places the relative is dead. ETA2: To put it another way, the United States Post Office is focused on getting mail to the correct address, not always the correct person. Or, so it seems to me.


Australia post will forwar your mail for 3months. (i recently moved has and had it done for me). I think you gotta pay for it to be longer than 3 months.
I did the return the sender thing and I don’t think big company care when it comes back to them, so after awhile we got pretty annoyed and rang the company and complained and they stopped. Or you could do what my house hold did for awhile and just throw it in the bin.

I’m not sure how it works in Australia, but our mail carrier told us to toss all presorted mail, but mark “return to sender” on first-class mail. We’ve been in the new house a little over three months, and I am getting seriously annoyed by the previous owners (here 40 years) who didn’t bother going to the post office and forwarding mail. Add the fact their adult children get tons of mail, too, and we’re tossing half of what we receive. At least the CapitalOne bills stopped coming.

Most recently, we’ve received two checks for the previous owners from insurance companies (which we forwarded on to them ourselves–the previous owners left an address), but yesterday we received a fleece blanket from the Humane Society for them (a thank you gift for their donations–no, I didn’t open it, but the letter is very easy to read through the sheer plastic packaging). I don’t want to pay shipping to forward it on, but I don’t to stick the HS with the shipping bill of sending it back. I’m not sure what to do and might call the HS for their input. It was sent presorted, BTW.

At this point, I’m thinking about going to the post office myself and requesting a mail forwarding in their name. Sadly, the mountains of catalogs won’t be forwarded on, regardless.

When i lived in L.A. I was receiving mail for someone whose new address I knew. I wrote the new address on the envelopes, crossed out the incorrect (my) address, and sent then on their way. They’d come back a few days later. I finally called the Post Office, and they said they won’t forward mail that way. I could only put ‘Return To Sender’ on the mail, or else throw it away.

I tracked down the former owner of my last place and demanded she update her address after 2 or 3 years of receiving her speeding and parking fines with irritating regularity. I did try getting VicRoads to update their database, but they were useless. The first couple of times I was lied to - they told me if three pieces of mail were returned as undeliverable, a search would be made for her new address and the system would be updated. Five returned pieces of mail later, they kept coming. I called again and they told me to send the new few back and mark them “Return to sender: Not at this address”, but that didn’t make a difference. The final straw came when the sheriff showed up looking for her; I called and demanded they update their system and remove our address from her entry and they confessed that they couldn’t do anything until she contacted them. It didn’t matter that she didn’t live at our house as “we have to send the mail somewhere” and a 2 year old address that they’d been told was incorrect would do.

I have lived in my present house for 36 years and I still occasionally get mail addressed to the previous owner, mainly newsletters from the private school he attended. I just throw them away.

Thanks for all the replies. I would still like to know the legalities. Is it illegal to open mail that is not yours but delivered to your house?

I have had debt-collectors and sheriffs coming to our door looking for the previous resident.

Where I used to live a business started using our address after I had lived there for 18 months. I know because after 18 months we started getting 3 letters a day for ‘VAT enterprises’ - bills, demands etc. I had never seen this address on any of the previous mail for my place of residence.

blink, I can’t speak for Ozzie law, but I’d bet $5 it’s the same: if you didn’t ask for mail, you do with it as you see fit (recycling pile). Ethically, if it looks like a personal letter or financial doohickey, write “not at this address, please forward.”

I’ve been recieving mail (and phone calls) for previous tenants of my residence/number for years, including from creditors who’ve tracked me through 3 addresses(!) because the person lived in the same building once and had the same last name. Round file. Must admit though, I might be less casual if the fuzz showed up at the door looking for them… :dubious:

Go to and register (for free!*). Add the former owner’s name(s) in your profile section, then start selecting catalogs they get and declining them. Apparently all the merchants whose catalogs are listed there have agreed to work with them by honoring any removal requests received through that website. If you get a catalog that’s not listed, you can request that it be added.