Most people know that if you receive mail that does not belong to you, it’s common courtesy to return it to the postal service or its proper owner. It’s inappropriate to hold or open mail that does belong to you. But is it illegal to hold someone’s mail?

It is illegal to keep someone else’s mail from them intentionally. If you find mail that does not belong to you, you must mail it marked with “return to sender” or inform the mailman or your landlord of the mistake. Holding someone’s mail is considered a form of theft, and it violates federal law.

If you move to a new place, you may receive mail intended for the previous tenant, so it is important to know how to deal with it. Read on to learn how to deal with mail that does belong to you and the consequences of holding someone’s mail.

Legal Implications of Holding Someone’s Mail

When someone withholds someone else’s mail, they are breaking the law. Withholding someone’s mail is a federal crime and can be punishable by jail time of up to five years.

The definition of this act is to willfully and intentionally prevent or delay mail delivery to a person entitled to receive it. It is also illegal to steal, buy, sell, or destroy mail that belongs to another person.

Holding someone’s mail is a serious offense that should not be taken lightly. The following are some of the reasons why you should not withhold mail that does not belong to you:

  • It’s a federal crime: You can be fined or imprisoned if you are found guilty.
  • The mail could contain sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords, bank account numbers, etc.
  • The sender might have been expecting an urgent answer or response from the recipient.

Obstruction of Correspondence

Obstruction of correspondence is an obstruction to the delivery or receipt of mail. It is the intentional or negligent act of preventing a person from sending, receiving, or processing mail through theft, destruction, or simply not delivering it to its destination. This act is punishable by law and may result in a fine or imprisonment for up to five years.

When Is It Legal to Hold Someone’s Mail?

In some cases, you may be legally required to withhold mail from a particular person. The postal service is also legally mandated to hold mail under certain circumstances.

The only legal time to hold someone’s mail is if you have consent from the person to whom the mail belongs. The postman or postmaster can also withhold someone’s mail if they believe there is a risk of harm to the recipient or others.

The law allows them to do this when they believe it would be unreasonable or impractical for the recipient to come and collect their mail. In some cases, it may be necessary for the postman to withhold someone’s mail for them to protect themselves and others from harm.

The postal service may also initiate a hold on someone’s mail if it accumulates, implying that the addressee has moved and failed to update their address. The USPS can also hold mail through their hold mail service, which lets the postal service stop mail delivery for up to 30 days when you want to suspend home delivery or are out of town.

How to Deal With Mail That Does Not Belong to You

If you are unsure if the mail belongs to you, it is best not to open it. The first thing you should do is check if the correspondence is addressed to you. If it is not, you should return the mail to the sender.

You can use a sticky note with a note that says “Return to Sender” and put it on the front of the envelope. You can also contact your local post office and ask them for help. They will be able to look up who sent it and who is the recipient.

Inform the Mailman

It is crucial to inform the mailman when you receive mail that is not yours. The person who sent the mail might be expecting a response from the recipient; by failing to take action, you essentially deny them their right to communicate with them.

It’s also important to inform your postal service because it could indicate identity theft or fraud, which can happen when someone steals your identity and sends out letters or packages with your address to steal from you.

Inform Your Landlord

It is vital to let your landlord know about any mail you receive that is not addressed to you. It could be a letter from a tenant who has moved out and forgotten something. Or, it could be an emergency notice from the building management company or even a bill collector looking for the previous tenant.

The landlord may have an updated contact list for their previous tenants and may still be in contact with them. This information will help you locate the owner of the mail.

Do Not Change the Address

Never change the recipient’s address, even if you know their new location. The USPS will need to verify the identity of the person who requests a change of address for security reasons. Only the recipient has the right to make this change.

Can You Discard Mail That Does Not Belong to You?

It is considered a federal crime to destroy or open mail that does not belong to you. The law bars anyone from opening, destroying, hiding, or embezzling mail that is not addressed to them.

You cannot discard mail that does not belong to you. It is considered a felony if you intentionally shred or destroy mail that belongs to someone else. You could potentially pay fines or face a jail sentence of five years for committing the crime of obstruction of correspondence.

Sometimes you may receive mail that belongs to previous tenants, especially if they have not updated their mailing address with the postal service. When this happens, take the necessary precautions as mentioned above to avoid running into legal trouble.

What to Do if You Accidentally Open Someone’s Mail

If you accidentally open mail that does not belong to you, you are not liable because there is no malicious intent. You should re-seal the mail and mark it with “return-it-to-sender” to avoid the consequences of ‘obstructing’ the mail from reaching its intended recipient.

You can open someone’s mail only when you have permission from the recipient since federal law only considers “unlawful receipt of mail” to be illegal. If you have permission from the addressee, then it is not considered an offense to open the mail.

What to Do if Someone Is Withholding Your Mail

If someone is withholding your mail illegally, you can take action by contacting the USPS. You should also be aware that this is a federal crime, and the person withholding your mail could face up to five years in prison or a hefty fine.

Report Mail Withholding to the Police

The mail is a vital part of our lives. We can use it to communicate with friends, family, and loved ones or for business purposes. When someone is withholding your mail illegally, it can cause you to miss out on important communications or opportunities.

If you know someone is withholding your mail, you must report it to the police as soon as possible so that they can investigate this crime and bring the perpetrator to justice.

Inform the Postal Service

If you have been receiving mail regularly from a particular sender but have not been receiving any mail from that sender for a week or more, you should report to the postal service. The postal service will investigate the situation and find out what happened to your mail.

You can also contact the sender to see if they know anything about your missing mail. If they are aware of what is going on, it may be possible for them to stop sending mail until you can establish who is holding it.

What to Do if Charged With Obstruction of Mail

If you are charged with holding someone’s mail, the first step is to talk to a defense attorney as soon as possible. The most common forms of obstruction of mail are stealing and withholding mail that belongs to someone else.

If a person has been charged with these offenses, they need to be aware that the penalties can be severe and may include jail time. Many factors go into the decision process for obstruction of mail cases, and your lawyer can determine what route will work best for your situation.

Final Thoughts

It is common to receive mail intended for the previous tenant. The tenant may have moved out but left an old forwarding address with the landlord or property management company, or the tenant has moved and failed to update their new mailing address with the postal service.

Obstruction of mail is a federal offense in the United States. If you have received mail that does not belong to you, do not withhold it as the sender may be expecting a reply. If you have the sender’s address, it would be better to send the mail back to them.

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