Because Austin has a hot housing market, it is not uncommon for individuals to move frequently. When you relocate to a new apartment or home, you may receive mail someone sent to previous tenants. While it may be tempting to shred or throw away this mail, doing so may constitute a felony.
Obstruction of correspondence is a federal criminal offense. Upon conviction, you may face up to five years in prison for destroying someone else’s mail.
Intent is an element
It is not possible to obstruct correspondence accidentally or unknowingly. After all, the intent is an element of the crime. Still, it does not take much to intend to obstruct correspondence. Knowingly shredding or discarding mail that does not belong to you is probably sufficient. This may be true even if you live at the address on the letter or package.
You can avoid criminal charges
If mail comes for a previous resident of your home, you should only keep it if its address says, “or current resident.” Otherwise, to avoid potential criminal charges, you should return mail to the U.S. Postal Service.
According to the USPS, you should write “not at this address” on the envelope or outside of any mail that is not yours. Then, you should place the letter or parcel back inside your mailbox for the postal carrier to retrieve. You can also take incorrectly delivered mail to the post office or hand it to your postal carrier.
Ultimately, though, if you are facing charges for the destruction of correspondence, it is critical for you to explore all possible defenses as early as possible.