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Blog: Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles
Wait, This Mail Is For the Other Guy!

A few weeks ago, we talked about what happens when you start a new job and inherit the piles of papers that belong to "the other guy", the previous occupant of the desk or office.  That post resulted in lots of emails from people who had suffered with trying to make sense of what could be purged and what was important.

Others wanted to know what do to with the mail that comes for a previous occupant.  It can be hard enough to deal with our own junk mail--as we've discussed before.  What can (or should) you do about mail meant for someone else?

How you deal with mail not meant for you depends on whose mail it is, what kind of mail is being delivered and how helpful you care to be.  To start, when/why might you get mail meant for someone other than yourself?

  • You've bought a new home but you keep getting bills, letters, holiday cards and dental appointment notes for the former owners.
  • You've rented a new apartment, but the previous renter's subscriptions to Inappropriately Named Body Parts Monthly or Political Stands You'd Rather Not Take Gazette keep coming to your door.
  • You asked your previous spouse or significant other to remove him/herself from your place of residence.  You'll recall this is what happened to Felix Unger. (Go on and click...you know you want to hum that theme song!)
  • Your child has graduated and is no longer using your home as a permanent residence.
  • The landlord or owner of your rented home is receiving junk mail, legal notices, or foreclosure warnings.  (Eek!)
  • You've purchased a lake house and are receiving letters sent from the future from people who sound suspiciously like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
Your next action depends on what kind of mail is showing up in your mailbox.

1)  To stop receiving general junk mail send to the previous owner or resident, you can use the suggestions previously posted at Out of the Mouths of Moms: On Paper You Don't Want.

Send a postcard or letter to the Direct Marketing Association:

Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 643
Carmel, NY 15012-0643

Specify that you're requesting that they "Please activate the mail preference service" to eliminate mail, and then include the name (if applicable), full street address (including apartment or suite number), city, state, and zip code (with four-digit extension, if possible) for the previous resident and the applicable address.
If you've taken over an apartment belonging to college students (or, perhaps, a long line of college students dating back to the Watergate era), you'll have to send individual cards or letters for each named person.  (Understandably, the Direct Marketing Association isn't keen on dropping lucrative names from their rolls, so they're less likely to respond favorably to bulk requests in one envelope.)

You may also wish to check out the Direct Marketing Association's online service, DMAChoice, to manage the types of mail you wish (or don't wish) to receive.  (For more information on this ever-expanding service, check their Learn More: Direct Mail 101 section.)

2)  To stop receiving First Class and some (but not all) bulk mail belonging to previous residents, your adult children, or former significant others, you can just fill out an official U.S. Postal Service Change of Address card.  You can pick up an official form at any post office, ask your mail carrier for one or even fill it out online.  (Note, in order to use the online form, you will need a valid credit card and will be charged $1.)
  • If your adult child has made a temporary but "lengthy" relocation -- let's say she'll be at college for the next nine months -- you or she should fill out a temporary change of address request.  Of course, if your kid is just away for summer camp or an internship, you're better off keeping the mail and forwarding a stack (as part of a loving, delicious care package) every few weeks.
  • If groups of people lived in your home before you (flatmates, college students, a different family), you will need to fill out one permanent change of address card for each unique LAST name
If you know the forwarding address, simply fill out the form and the post office will take care of the rest. 

If you don't know the address to which a prior resident has moved
, write "Moved, Left No Forwarding Address" in the space for the new address.  You should sign your own name (because it would be fraudulent to do otherwise, and Paper Doll doesn't think they'll let you read blog posts in prison).  Then write:

"This form has been completed by the current resident of the house/apartment. [Your Name], agent for the above".

I know, you're thinking "it's just mail...", but the legalese does require that you write "agent for the above" in order for everything to be kosher.

Then give the form to your mail carrier, so he/she has can approve it and make sure it gets entered in to U.S. Postal Service's National Change of Address (NCOA) database.

3)  If you only occasionally receive mail meant for someone else, you can just write "Return to Sender/Not At This Address" on the outside of the envelope and drop it into any mailbox or your post office's "misdirected/misdelivered mail" box or slot. 

4)  To stop receiving magazines, newspapers and other informational mail to which you are not subscribed, the above change-of-address and/or "return to sender" methods should work within a few issue periods.  However, sometimes you might want a quicker response, especially if the publication something you'd prefer not to arrive at your mailbox in the first place. 

The quickest way to stop general publications is to turn to the masthead of the publication and follow through to the small print to find the toll-free phone number or website for the publication's subscription services department.  Explain the situation and request that the publication no longer be sent to you.  You may be asked to read some of the information from the subscription label, but you will not have to provide any personal information about yourself.

5)  Sometimes, you might find the last guy's mail icky.  If you are receiving something that you consider inappropriate content, such as sexually suggestive magazines or advertising, the U.S. Postal Service will intervene so that you do not have to contact the sender yourself. 

Fill out postal form #1500, which lets you choose from two postal service programs.  The first forbids a particular sender from mailing any further pandering advertisement to you. The second puts you on a general postal service list of "those not wishing to receive sexually oriented advertisements through the mail". Be aware, this may cause you to stop receiving other mail you don't consider icky, like catalogs from Victoria's Secret and fitness clothing retailers. It shouldn't, but it might. 

6)  To deal with mail for the former occupant of your office/desk/mail drop, determine whether the mail is business or personal.  For business mail, simply notify each sender of your name, title, direct extension and other pertinent details in a "Hi, just introducing myself.  I'm the new guy/gal!" email/letter.  If you receive personal mail for the former occupant of the desk and he/she still works in your company, you can hand-deliver it.  However, if Elvis has left the building, turn his mail over to your Human Resources department to cover your legal bases.

Finally, there may be circumstances where you just want to make sure it gets where it needs to go.  If you're receiving mail that you don't want, but are afraid redelivery may cause undue difficulties, consider these options:
  • If your landlord or owners of your residence receives legal notices, call them or their legal representation within two business days of receiving the mail.  This isn't just a matter of being nice.  If a bank or creditor has sent a notice of a lien or foreclosure, this could adversely impact your living situation, even if you've paid your rent on time.  Time may be of the essence!
  • If your former significant other receives a legal notice or other First Class mail at your residence, don't just toss it out.  (Paper Doll isn't going to tell you that you shouldn't read it.  You know right from wrong.)  If you don't have an amicable relationship, arrange a transfer via email or text message, which is often less stress-inducing than a phone call.  Then, send the mail (in a sealed kraft envelope) via mutual responsible friends/family, or, if you share custody, via  whomever handles the periodic transfer of weekend custody, but do not burden your child with the responsibility of playing postmaster.  At the very least, use steps #2 or #3, above, to return the mail to the original sender or have it forwarded to the rightful owner. 
Whether you concentrate on karma or manners, just do the right thing.  Always act First Class!

posted on: 2/3/2009 10:30:00 AM by Julie Bestry
category: Paper

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Discuss This Post

by Janet Barclay on 2/4/2009 4:45:58 PM:

Julie Julie Julie Once again you have shared some valuable tips with an awesome dose of humour! (Canadian spelling; I can't help myself, even though this is an American site) I live in a high rise where all mail addressed to "someone else" gets piled up and left for the mail carrier to pick up the following day. It's amazing how many people don't seem to bother filing a change of address!

by Julie Bestry (Paper Doll) on 2/4/2009 5:30:56 PM:

Janet, you totally get the Allan Sherman Award for saying "Julie, Julie, Julie"! :-) And what's the deal with people not wanting their mail? I love mail! Thanks for your kind words--if someone finds the blog useful, my job is done. If someone finds it funny, too, my day is made. I must go do the happy dance now. (I suppose the "happy dance" for this post would be Beyoncé's "Single Ladies", with me wearing envelopes instead of that weird chain mail glove she wears in the video. ;-)

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Paper Doll, Tackling The Stacks And Piles

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