Mail and the Boomerang Guest

One of the issues that comes up fairly regularly in host community groups, is the question of guests receiving mail at your house.  Often what happens is the host just doesn’t think much about this, until they open their mailbox and discover mail that is addressed to their guest, who’s staying at their house for 4 days, or a week or two. Or perhaps the host is arriving home from work, and finds a package on her porch — and it’s not for her, it’s for her guest.  Package on porch photoshopped

This can be a little unsettling, particularly if the host never gave permission to the guest to recieve mail at her house, and/or if the guest is only staying for a few days.

Many hosts would, however, dismiss any unsettled feeling that they have, and tell themselves that there is no harm in the guest receiving mail at their home — perhaps it’s something important, and after all, doesn’t the host want to provide hospitality?

The intention I have with this blog is to do as I like to do with many issues pertaining to hosting, and explore it in more depth and with more thought than many might give to what they regard as a minor issue.

So what can possibly go wrong with allowing your guest to recieve a letter or package at your home?  Here’s a visual clue to the answer which is possible, in a few years’ time, should you never limit guests receiving mail at your house:

Guest mail vs your mail
There will come a day when this is what you’ll start to find

There are several potential problems, which have been discussed in some host community threads, such as those here.

Here’s a summary of some of the potential problems:

1) Receipt of mail establishes tenancy rights. In some locales, receipt of mail may establish tenancy rights for a guest.  See this information for Connecticut, for instance.  In this article, receipt of mail is stated as one of the “warning signs” that a guest has become a tenant.

2) The multiplication factor. Guest asks if they can receive “just one package” and you say okay, then find that they are recieving packages every other day.

©Tamara Kenyon Photography - http://tamarakenyon.com
Is the guest taking advantage of host with permission to receive mail?

3) Many businesses put customers on mailing lists or sell their contact info to other businesses.  This is something a great many guests, (particularly those from other nations where this practice is prohibited) as well as hosts, are sadly uninformed about.  So if the guest asks if they can recieve “just one package” and you say okay, the multiplication factor can come in, they may order more,  and more, and the guest is getting on mailing lists (eg Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange, Macy’s, Target, Pottery Barn, the list goes on…), and it’s an open question whether you or the guest can ever get the guest off those mailing lists. It is difficult to impossible to be removed from some junk mail lists.  You may now be receiving mail for that guest for years to come.   This is one stellar example of what I call the “Boomerang Guest” effect.  A situation where the guest has departed, but they keep coming back. And back and back.  Through their ceaseless mail.

I have a real-life humorous anecdote about this type of situation to share.  For decades before I bought my house, it had been a roommate type of house, where several people lived, so even from the start, and now many years later, I receive mail for many people who have long since departed.  One day, I received a business call from a woman whose name sounded familiar, who wanted to hire me to do a project for her.   Joan Sturgess. Where had I heard that name before? Ah yes, then I recalled — I had been getting her mail for several years! It turned out that about 30 years ago, Joan had lived in my house, three owners prior to me.  So this may serve as a humorous illustration of how long that boomerang effect can actually last.  Decades!!

4)  The gift that keeps on giving: your work continues after the guest departs.  Perhaps the guest gets mail at your home, only one or two things. But then….once they depart,  it’s quite possible that more mail comes for that guest, who is now contacting you asking you to send those things to him. You are faced with the prospect of doing extra work for a guest who shouldn’t have been having mail sent to your house in the first place.  As well, you may be responsible for the guest’s mail, and getting it to them at their new address, if you have allowed it to be sent to your home.  I suggest not getting into this kind of complexity and potential extra effort.

5) Important guest documents are now linked to your address.  You tell guest he cannot have mail sent to your home, or perhaps you say packages from Amazon are okay, but he uses your home address to open a bank account in your city, without asking you, and after he leaves, bank statements for him continue to come to your home for years to come.  Or, he uses your address for his DMV renewal, or his VISA application, health insurance paperwork, or Immigration services account, or any number of official/government documents.  This has happened to me, even after I explicitly prohibited guests recieving mail at my home or using my address for any purpose.   One guest stayed 5 days and opened a bank account with my address.  Another stayed a couple months and I was still getting his bank statements 5 years later.

6) “But I told them not to send it to your address!”  What neither hosts nor guests seem to realize, and you will only find out to your dismay well after the guest departs, is that it doesn’t do any good at all for the guest to give your address to immigration services, to their employer, their university, or any business, while simultaneously saying “do not send mail to that address.”  Guess what.  They WILL send mail to that address!! Guaranteed. Because — and both guest and host should realize this —  account organization and mailing lists for large entities are never done in the luddite way completely by hand any more.  Everything is automated, and computer-driven.  This means that “personal notes” such as “dont’ send mail there” are completely pointless.  You only need to think about this for a few seconds to realize — there is no way to tell a computer, “store this information in their account under mailing address, but dont’ use it as their mailing address.”
So for this reason, if you really want to prohibit guest from receiving mail at your house, you need to make it clear to the guest that they also cannot give out your address to any entity.

7) Will you be responsible for lost guest mail/packages?  If you allow the guest to receive mail at your house, you need to consider the outcome, should the guest not receive that mail.  What if it ends up lost, or stolen? In my neighborhood, for instance, package theft is an epidemic, and it’s very common on the community board in my area to see people posting about their packages being stolen.  Or posting video of the package thieves.  Package thief with cart

8) Guest has illegal drugs/paraphernalia sent to your home.  This might seem like such a remote possibility that it’s not worth really considering.  However, it has happened to some Airbnb hosts.  See this article about how an Airbnb guest sent illegal drugs to a hosts’ home:

“…he was home and sound asleep when the Gwinnett County Police started pounding on his door, asking about a package. Police told him someone had sent two pounds of marijuana to his home, under a name he didn’t recognize.

But moments after the police left with the drugs in hand, he saw a text from the man renting his room through Airbnb that he was expecting a package.

“My immediate thought is I need to get out of here,” he said.

You can see that a common theme in this is that anytime a guest receives mail at your home, there is the potential that mail will continue to arrive at your home for the guest long after they are gone.  boomerang pathThis is the Boomerang effect, a result of the Boomerang Guest.  This is very difficult to put a stop to, particularly if you are dealing with a large company sending out advertisments. boomerang in handOr with large banks. As stated above, it took me 5 years to get a certain bank to stop sending bank statements to my home for a renter who had only been at my house for 2 months, 5 years prior.

So perhaps you’ve read this blog thus far, and decided that you want to prohibit guests from receiving mail at your house.  How can this be politely communicated to guests and what will you do if guests don’t follow this rule?

What I suggest is that you state in your house rules that you don’t allow guests to receive mail at your house, or give out your home address for any purpose, but that at the same time, you do offer suggestions on how/where they can receive mail.  Here are some options for how guests can receive mail elsewhere:

 

UPS mail box

(1) In the USA, it may well be possible for guests to receive mail for free, if they have it addressed to their name, care of “General Delivery”, at a nearby post office.  People who are traveling (Eg on a bike ride across the country) often arrange for this to get their mail from town to town as they travel.

(2) Guest can set up a mail box at a local UPS or FedEx office, or perhaps a US Post Office, though the latter usually requires them to provide a local residence address.

(3) If guest is in town for a work project or university project, it may be quite possible for them to receive mail at their place of work.

(4) Amazon deliveries can now quite often be picked up at local Amazon drop spots, which are often local stores.  WHen you buy something on Amazon they give information about this.

What if you ask the guest to read the house rules before booking, and Airbnb asks the guest to read the house rules before booking, and the guest says he read the house rules before booking, but then one day soon after his arrival you find a package for the guest on your porch  —, in spite of having made it very clear in your house rules that you dont’ allow guests to receive mail at your home?  When you ask the guest about this,  I’m sure he’ll say he “forgot” or “didn’t know.”   What he really means is that in spite of you asking him 2 or 3 times to read the house rules, and having house rules posted in the house and on a laminated card in the guests’ room, he did not read them, and simply made assumptions in lieu of reading anything.

So then what do you do, if mail arrives for the guest, after you have prohibited the guest from receiving mail at your house?  Well, I strongly suggest that whatever you do, you do not give that mail or package to the guest.
I used to do this, chiding the guest at the same time, saying “Mail came for you, here it is, dont’ ever do that again, it’s not permitted. ”  But I had this problem occur so often — in fact, it was the house rule most often broken by my guests — that I finally became fed up, and realized that if I did give the guest’s mail to them, after prohibiting their sending it to my house, they were seeing no consequences for their violation of their house rules. And particuarly if their receipt of mail at my house then led to a future of me receiving their junk mail for months or years to come, I would be quite angry with myself for having given them their mail, which led to this unending and unwelcome gift of more and more and more mail. boomerang colorful

Then I obtained an inspiration from another host I know in the host community, on how to deal with this issue. She said her policy on mail as articulated in the house rules, is not only that guests may not receive mail at her house, but also that “if you have mail sent here you will not receive it.”  So she was actually making a promise to the guest, that they would not benefit from violating the house rules.

So, although it may be slightly more work to return mail or packages to the sender, than to give them to the guest, I suggest that hosts take this route, so as to eliminate the possibility of guests benefitting from violating the house rules.  Also, to avoid angering the guest, I suggest that the host does not say to the guest, “Mail came for you, I received it and then sent it back” but rather suggest that there was a delivery attempt which was not completed.  One way you can facilitate return to sender is to tell your mail carrier that there should be no mail delivered to your house for anyone but yourself, and that any mail with anyone else’s name on it should be returned to sender.

This latter method helps when you have the “but it’s an emergency” type guest who insists that they need one package, one mail item delivered at your house “because it’s an emergency.” Well you might want to make an exception for a true emergency, but keep in mind that what constitutes an “emergency” for the guest may not really qualify — for instance, guest may think it’s an “emergency” if he really wants to read a book on tourist attractions in your area before he leaves your area, and so he just has to order it from Amazon.

So for the most part, I strongly suggest returning all mail that arrives at your house which is not for you.  However, not all mail can be returned.  In the USA, it’s a federal crime to interfere with someone’s US mail (this applies only to mail carried by the US Postal Service, not to packages delivered by UPS or Fedex, etc), but only First Class mail is returnable.  Third Class mail, which includes most “junk mail” is not returnable and if you try to return it, it will just be discarded.  See here for some information.

Another way to discourage guests from even trying to have mail sent to your home, is to explain or hint to them regarding the insecurity of mail being returned.  When you have a lockable mailbox, incoming mail is secure — outgoing mail is not.   I have my packages dropped over my fence, so they are secure from theft when delivered — but outgoing packages which are simply set on the porch are not secure at all.  And package theft is high in my area.
You may be willing to drive to the local UPS or Fedex outlet to return a package that should never have been delivered to your home — or you may not be willing to make that effort, and might instead just call UPS et al, and tell them the package is sitting on your porch.  And you can only cross your fingers and hope that UPS comes and retrieves it before a thief does.

If you attempt to return someone’s mail, for instance, by writing “return to sender” on it and attaching it

outgoing mail

with a clothes pin to your mailbox, waiting there to be picked up by the mail carrier, you aren’t responsible for that mail if someone steals it, or it gets rained on and destroyed, or a dog comes and grabs it and runs off with it.  Thus, it is appropriate to inform the guest, that it’s quite a risky business for them to have their mail delivered to your home in violation of your house rules.  They will not get it if it’s delivered to your house, and — particularly in areas where package theft is high —  it is quite possible they’ll never get it at all.

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