Post office boxes and private mailboxes won’t prevent every problem that landlords have, but they can certainly prevent a lot of them.
As every mother on the planet is fond of saying, safety first. Tenants who don’t know where you live or work can’t show up at your home or office, wielding an axe and generally disrupting your personal or professional life. Every landlord-tenant relationship may start friendly, but a quick glance at the overloaded rent court dockets in this country shows that many relationships go sour, and often in spectacularly vehement ways.
Tenants who can’t physically find you will also have a much harder time serving you with lawsuit papers. While determined attorneys can eventually track down your physical address by filing paperwork with the Postal Service, every seasoned asset protection attorney will tell you that no one’s impossible to sue, they are merely less or more difficult to sue. Asset protection is about making it as difficult and unpalatable to sue you as possible, and every barrier you can place between you and would-be litigating parasites, the better.
At a certain level of difficulty, it is simply not worth the effort of finding a landlord and their assets, especially since most landlord-tenant suits take place in small claims court.
There is also an element of anonymity that can be achieved with a P.O. box. If you give tenants your home address, and you own your own home (as the overwhelming majority of landlords do), your name is attached to the public real estate records. But perhaps your PO box is owned by a company (ideally the same company that owns the property itself)? Maybe your name is not found on the company charter that’s filed with the state or province? Perhaps your tenant knows you only by your middle name, or your nickname? You can make it difficult for tenants to figure out who and where you are.
And who’s to say that you are the owner of the company that owns the property in the first place? For all the tenant knows, you’re merely the manager of the property. (Word to the wise: smart landlords do not share with tenants that they own the property, they rather introduce themselves only as of the manager.)
Some private mail services, often catering to the RV crowd, even allow you to use the private mailbox address as your legal residence. There can be restrictions in place, but for landlords who travel and want a permanent, anonymous address, perhaps in an income tax-free state such as Texas or Florida, this can be an attractive option. Mobile landlords with out-of-state mailing addresses are much, much harder to sue than stationary, visible local landlords, and can save money on taxes to boot.
With all that being said, some states (such as California and Hawaii) can be touchy about physical addresses. California law states “The owner/agent of the rental unit MUST disclose the 1. name, 2. telephone number, and 3. usual street address of whoever is accepting rental payments, repair requests, and all notices required.” Whether mailboxes with usual street addresses (which are offered by both the USPS and private mail services), that sign on your behalf for packages, are in compliance with CA and HI law is a question for attorneys to battle over in court, but landlords and managers can write out their mailbox address as “123 Sample St, #456”; a usual street address.
As with all rental-related expenses, much of the decision comes down to cost. Fortunately, P.O. boxes tend to be cheap ($60-100/year), and even private mailbox services (with mail forwarding) are often only a few hundred dollars annually. If you travel and want a residence address in a tax-free state, the mail service often costs less money than it saves in income taxes each year.
Read our further tips on why and how landlords should remain anonymous, and start with the U.S. Postal Service’s P.O. Box program before looking into more advanced private mailbox services. Canadian residents can find Canadian P.O. Box information here.
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