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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: http://maps.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=171429. 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.