Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

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Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. Ed. Note Griffin & Murphy is a PoP advertiser. You can find previous questions featured here.


I have a fairly unique legal question:

We moved in to our home last November, and have recently discovered that someone must have had a home business at this address. The business is listed on various websites such as citysearch and google maps, with our address and a phone number that is disconnected. Judging by the disconnected phone and dysfunctional website, the business appears to be defunct. From a legal standpoint, I have the following questions:

What liability, if any, do we have in regards to this business, and how can we ensure that any debts or other liabilities incurred by this business do not become a burden to us simply because of the address?

When we get mail for it, is it our mail by default, or is it mail for something that doesn’t exist? To complicate things further, our dog chewed a letter sent to the business, so I’m not sure how to forward damaged mail.

Is there a way to insist that websites stop listing this business with our address? Thanks!

Answer after the jump.


First, let me say that it is refreshing to hear that you want to be a good citizen and correct this situation rather than simply throw the unwanted mail in the trash.

Although it is annoying to receive mail that was intended for the former resident of your house, you should not worry about being liable for the debts or other obligations of the former resident, including those of his or her home business. Although a business was apparently once operated out of your house, you did not become the owner of the business by virtue of buying its principal office, and thus you would not be liable for the company’s legal obligations. If the previous owner of the house had offered the property as collateral to secure the debts of his or her company, assuming you purchased title insurance for yourself or your lender, such an encumbrance would have been discovered by the title company and brought to your attention when you purchased the house.

As for the company’s mail, I would recommend marking “Return to Sender” on everything you receive that is addressed to the company and then dropping it in the mail. Eventually you will start to see things taper off. Any damaged mail you have should be placed in a new envelope and returned to the sender, assuming you can still read the sender’s name and address.

Google Maps allows you to edit its maps to correct incorrect business information. Here is the link: I am sure Citysearch probably has a similar feature and it has a procedure for reporting incorrect information.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

9 Comment

  • Liable for their debts? Really? You worry about that because you now have their old address?

  • I have been forwarding everything now for months.

    Return to Sender, No Longer at this address…

  • we have been returning to sender for more than 3 years and still get the mail of our former resident, including checks, from the former resident of our home. I have debated simply throwing the mail away because if I believe that bringing the problem to the attention of both the post office and the sender for more than three years is sufficient.

    • I was just going to post the same thing. We’ve been getting his mail for closer to 4 years and it hasn’t tapered off at all. I think throwing it in the trash is fair game now.

  • In my case someone who used to live in the house was not the most upstanding citizen and he continued to use his drivers license with his old and my new address long, long after he had moved. I tended to throw mail away for previous owners/renters unless it looked official at which point I wrote “no longer at the address” and sent it back. However, one day I got two letters from the State of Maryland court system I think, and those unnerved me. I sent them back – one with a “no longer at this address message – the other with information about his mother. I was never bothered again.

    I had more of a problem with phone calls. For months I wouldn’t get any debt collectors and then all at once I would get a spate. I assume the account had been resold and they ran a report for the address and got a new phone number which they called. I always return those calls because debt collectors don’t always confine themselves to phone calls. Eventually they would die out – I haven’t gotten one for that person in a while (though I have gotten them for someone else).

    One incident that “scared” me was one night while I was upstairs I heard a knock at the door. Because I was lazy I just poked my head out of the upstairs window and a nicely dressed mid to late 40’s black male was at my door asking for this guy that used to live there. He was from the DC public defenders office or something similar and this guy was his client. I told him that this “gentleman” hadn’t lived there in years. He was very nice about the whole thing. But for weeks I was worried that SWAT or the Marshals would bust down my door. I even did what I could to find more current information on him or his mother just in case it happened again. This guy died about 2 years ago but when I hear stories of the police search for someone at the wrong address I think back on this and am glad that didn’t happen to me.

  • If it were not a business but a private citizen would you feel that someone would hold you responsible for that person’s actions?

    Funny concern.

    • saf

      We had a problem similar to ET (above) in that we bought a house that was “last known address” for a whole bunch of people that a whole bunch of cops REALLY wanted to talk to. It was more than 10 years after we bought the place before we stopped having cops at the door regularly.

      We also had the problem of former associates coming back (“Yeah, I just got out. Is Becky here? Who are you people?)

      So there are effects on your life when you buy a pre-owned property.

  • The previous owner of my house was the minister of a church in Shaw. She used her home address as the mailing address for the church’s tax documents. For eight years, I have been receiving the church’s tax bills and tax exemption forms. I have contacted the church and the DC Department of Revenue to try to change the address. I have written “return to sender” on the mail. Nothing has work. Recently, I received two $500 fines for inproperly covered dumpers on the church’s property. The fines double if not paid in a month or two. I mailed the fines back to the Dept. of Health with a note saying that my address was no longer the mailing address of the church. Most recently, I received a court summons for the church for $2000in unpaid health code violation fines (the dumpster fines). I have officially given up on trying to fix a problem that is not mine!

  • I forward all mail like this to Nigeria. They know what to do with it.

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