I moved into a rental home around 2 years ago immediately on the heels of a previous tenant. I experienced the usual "mail overlap" period of a few weeks, during which I was happy to pass letters & small packages either back to our carrier. These trickled away and I felt like things had settled.

Then, the first "big box" came.

It seems the previous tenant works in sales/marketing, and about once a month I've gotten large packages from various marketing firms. Most of these are shipped via non-USPS carriers (UPS & FedEx are most prevalent here, though I've occasionally seen DHL as well). Initially, I tried taking these to our property managers, but they informed me that they had no forwarding info for the previous tenants and that I should follow up with the delivery folks instead. Our landlord was similarly stumped regarding getting in touch with the former tenants. I spoke to a couple drivers and was told that they could take them, but that they would likely be redelivered. I tried this and had the packages redelivered multiple times by different drivers before giving up.

I called both UPS & FedEx and was told that I could hang onto the packages for the tenant or destroy them (I got this from both different companies twice - I didn't believe it the first time, either). FedEx offered me the option of adding a special rule that packages addressed to the previous tenant would not be delivered here, but there's a further complicating factor - we share almost the same name.

Whereas I'm "Kyle Robins" (pseudonym), the former tenant was "Kyle Robinson" (also pseudonym - but really, the similarity is kind of creepy). So when I suggested taking advantage of the "don't deliver to this person" feature, the rep was kind enough to warn me that there may be some missed mail due to name confusion. I do a significant portion of my business online and a few missed packages could translate to "can't pay my rent this month", so that's a pretty big concern for me. Ultimately, the same rep informed me that I could hold or destroy the packages.

I tried calling some of the companies listed on the package return addresses, but most of them are just printshops and couldn't give me any info about specific ordering companies I could call to try and rectify the situation. A few suggested I open the packages to get more info, but honestly opening a package not meant for me scares me more than just throwing the whole box out uninvestigated.

After over a year of having these poster-sized packages accumulating in a corner, I tossed the lot of them into the bin. Since then I've received others and done the same, but it worries me more every time I do so. I'm approaching the 2-year mark with no contact from the former tenant, and I'm curious: is there a proper way to handle this situation? Does the US Code mentioned here apply to non-USPS vendors as well? I feel like I've done everything I could be reasonably expected to so short of buying a shed to store "other-Kyle"'s boxes for him, but I don't want something important to slip by for both of our sakes!

As a clarifying point: These are all large, mostly unmarked boxes - nothing hand addressed or customized. There were some similar packages left in the attic when we moved in full of pamphlets/foldouts/posters, leading me to believe these are the same sorts of things. Anything obviously personal has come & gone via USPS - I suppose I would just hold an obviously personal package or Amazon delivery from another carrier indefinitely.

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    Both of these services offer return-to-sender options free of charge. So long as the package is clearly unopened, you can just write "Return to Sender" or similar with a note that the person doesn't live there anymore, and give it back to UPS or FedEx (usually have to take it into one of their buildings) and have it sent back. Those printing companies may not be able to give you information, but I guarantee they have information they can use if they start getting packages returned to them. No one just prints things blindly for people.
    – animuson
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Focusing on the legal question, the obstruction of correspondence statute would not be applicable to UPS package deliveries. To repeat 18 USC 1702,

Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office or any authorized depository for mail matter, or from any letter or mail carrier, or which has been in any post office or authorized depository, or in the custody of any letter or mail carrier, before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed, with design to obstruct the correspondence, or to pry into the business or secrets of another, or opens, secretes, embezzles, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

Private package delivery services deliver to the porch (pr similar), not to an authorized depository (such as a mailbox). They are not "mail", and they have not been in the custody of the postal service (unless they have, where USPS actually makes the delivery).

Such deliveries constitute unsolicited goods / unordered merchandise, since they were not things that you requested. There are state and federal rules to the effect that you may accept such goods as gifts, and you have no obligation to return the goods. Here is the Washington state law for example, and here is what the FTC says about it at the federal level. The intended recipient cannot impose an obligation on you to store and guard his possessions, nor can a delivery service impose an obligation to safeguard property that they are responsible for.

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    Would accepting these as gifts have tax implications?
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 18:17
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    Not for the recipient: the donor bears any gift tax responsibility, under US rules. Gifts are not income.
    – user6726
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 18:56
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    @KRyan past what user6726 already said, gift tax also doesn't kick in until $14,000. I doubt this person is receiving that many packages that they'd ever even pass that threshold.
    – animuson
    Commented Apr 16, 2017 at 19:52
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    Your WA link says "either addressed to or intended for the recipient" and the federal one seems concerned with correctly addressed goods too. I doubt that misdirected packages are gifts of unsolicited goods, do you have a example?
    – user4460
    Commented Apr 17, 2017 at 19:15

If I was in your place, I'd try to track down the previous tenant. For instance, you could try to get address information from USPS (might work if the guy has a mail forwarding order) or you could try to find his address somewhere in government records.

If that doesn't work, I would return the items to sender.

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