Say I move into an apartment. And over the next months and years, I keep receiving mail for the previous tenant, whom I do not know.

This is understandably annoying. The easiest and most convenient approach for me is to just throw away his mail – but would I be breaking any law if I did so?

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    (Instead of posting a duplicate:) it'd be helpful if answers might also address different classes of mail (e.g. "standard mail" as opposed to first class) and how the answer might change if the intended recipient is dead (but, perhaps, junk mailers don't know).
    – WBT
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 14:08
  • @WBT, the Domestic Mail Manual defies easy summarization (and doesn't apply to the OP's original question since it doesn't regulate residential customers) but it is the case that a mailer who wants to enjoy Standard Mail rate has to verify that the addresses in the list exist as a matter of data completeness (but not that the named recipients are at the address). There is an option to use the USPS's database of recent address changes, but it is not mandatory. The mailer chooses if they will pay for forwarding service or return service pe.usps.gov/text/dmm300/243.htm
    – user662852
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:33
  • Do you want generic answers for every country, or which country and state do you live in?
    – smci
    Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 16:55
  • If the mail is addressed "or current occupant" then it's your mail and you can do anything you want with it, except you can't return it to the post office for forwarding to the previous tenant.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 4:12

3 Answers 3


Do not throw away mail that is not addressed to you.

If you receive misaddressed mail, write "Not at this address" on the envelope and put it in a mailbox, or give it to the mailperson (source: United States Postal Service - Reporting / returning misdelivered mail). Also, if you contact USPS they may redirect the misaddressed mail for you.

18 U.S. Code § 1702 - Obstruction of correspondence

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.

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    What relation, if any, is there between the recipient address (not name) on the letter or package and "person to whom it was directed"? This statute appears not to apply to the situation under discussion, because the correspondence is not in any authorized depository, nor the custody of a mail carrier.
    – Ben Voigt
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 17:51
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    @BenVoigt The Domestic Mail Manual (the DMM, a Federal regulation) is specific. Door slots are excluded under 3.1.2. pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/508.htm#1051804: 3.1.1 Authorized Depository Except as excluded by 3.1.2, every letterbox or other receptacle intended or used for the receipt or delivery of mail on any city delivery route, rural delivery route, highway contract route, or other mail route is designated an authorized depository for mail within the meaning of 18 USC 1702, 1705, 1708, and 1725.
    – user662852
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:41
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    @BenVoigt but the correspondence "has been in [a] post office ... or in the custody of [a] letter or mail carrier," so the statute applies.
    – phoog
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 6:18
  • @user662852 the DMM needn't come into play. The fact that the letter was formerly in the custody of a letter carrier suffices.
    – phoog
    Commented May 15, 2016 at 6:19
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    It is worth noting that a piece addressed "or current occupant" belongs to you no matter what, and the post office won't forward such a piece to the previous occupant even if that person's name is on the label.
    – phoog
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 4:15

This is a concise summary of the rule in Australia.

The recipient is obliged to cross out the address mark it "return to sender no longer at this address" and post it or otherwise deliver it to the addressee.

Only Australia Post may legally destroy mail.


In the United States with USPS, this appears to depend on letter type.

"STANDARD" is what the junk mail gets mailed as (and it does not get forwarded with a Change-of-Address), whereas "FIRST CLASS" is what important and personal mail gets mailed as.

Indeed, interfering with FIRST CLASS would be a serious crime. What most postmasters appear to advise is simply put it back to the outgoing pile (even without marking it, if you have nothing to mark it with), and they'll sort it out (either delivering it again to you for one more time, to make sure it wasn't just your neighbour the letter has gotten to the prior time, or, returning to sender if the name doesn't match). Ideally, it appears that they're supposed to remember who does and does not live at a given mailbox, often making certain marks on their side of the box with the names of the individuals.

As for STANDARD junk mail, it was revealed to me by the postmaster that they never do anything with returned standard mail other than throwing it directly into the recycling bin (they're only supposed to do something if it's further marked for certain address service or some such). I've had an issue of AmEx suddenly starting to send me credit card applications to someone's obviously assumed name with my address; I was advised by a postal worker that I might as well use the prepaid envelope to send it back asking for the fictional person with my address to be removed from their list (it seems to have worked after a few times).

TL;DR: make sure to return FIRST CLASS to the outgoing pile, they'll take care of it; if it's non-first-class STANDARD junk mail and you're lazy, direct recycling is a possibility.

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    Is it, strictly speaking, legal to throw away standard mail though (especially without also destroying it)? You may be "required" to return such mail even if they end up throwing it away when you do, and they might not even care if you do throw it away yourself, but that doesn't mean it's legal to throw it away yourself.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Jun 15, 2020 at 18:58

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