The question of what to do about satellite dishes is one of those HOA/condominium management topics that seems to keep coming up like a bad penny. Sure, everyone wants his neighbor to enjoy the latest Kerry vs. Donegal hurling match in the privacy of his own home.
But HOA board members are understandably eager to prevent the sprouting of unsightly and potentially hazardous forests of antennae on buildings, and the proliferation of receiving dishes on every porch like so much ivy.
So what can you do about it?
It turns out the federal government has taken some power out of HOA boards’ hands. In the United States, broadcasting regulation comes under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission – and that includes the regulation of devices designed to receive signals, not just to transmit them.
Satellite dishes, therefore, fall under federal regulation – and they can be regulated! The general rule: The feds give a lot of leeway to residents – whether renters or owners – who want to install dishes in their own exclusive areas (as opposed to common areas.)
Putting the “TARD” in OTARD
That federal regulation proved inconvenient and embarrassing for the Palatine Hill Homeowners Association in Henderson, Nevada, who tried to haul in one of their property owners because of a satellite dish she had installed on the side of her house, in her own yard. The HOA tried to call in Lisa Wuest and fine her $100, because the board believed that the professionally-installed antenna violated her neighbor’s right not to look at it.
“That’s what exactly we’re trying to fight against, because they cannot come in here and put the satellite dishes in the front or the side yard of any house,” said the HOA president, Barry Tedesco, in a transcript of the meeting with West. “It violates our own CC&Rs and it violates the master.”
The problem: The HOA’s policy actually violated the Federal Communications Commission’s OTARD Rule.
OTARD stands for “Over-The-Air-Receptions Device,” and refers to a rule passed at the direction of Congress in Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
In those days, satellite dish sales reps were roaming the countryside like Visigoth marauders, selling dishes and satellite service subscriptions wherever they went – leaving gray sprouting forests of dishes in their wake. With the OTARD rule, the FEC severely limited the power of landlords, HOA boards and condominium associations to hack back at the growth by prohibiting satellite dishes on their properties.
Specifically, 47 C.F.R. Section 1.400 prohibits any HOA, condo association, landlord, state or local government to “enact restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance, or use of antennas used to receive video programming.”
The rule applies to antennas greater than 1 meter in diameter – except in Alaska, where the rule applies to antenna of any size.
That means HOAs and similar organizations can’t tell a resident they can’t have an antenna that’s under 1 meter in any area where the resident enjoys the exclusive use. That includes balconies and patios. The rule protects renters as well as owners.
The rule also applies generally to antennas designed for data services. Which means Internet antennas are generally protected under this rule.
What Is Prohibited?
The OTARD rule prohibits HOAs, condo associations and the like from enacting any restriction that would impair the installation, maintenance or reception of these antennae in any porch or patio. It also prohibits the enacting of a blanket ban on satellite dishes of the covered size.
A policy governing these dishes would fall afoul of federal rules if it had any of these effects:
- Prevents use of satellite dishes and access to satellite video feed content
- Unreasonably delays installation
- Unreasonably increases cost of installation
- You can’t require the resident to pay a fee to install the dish.
- You can’t require a resident to pay to get a special permit.
- You cannot generally require a resident to get special permission from architectural review boards (except where safety or historical preservation is an issue).
- Precludes any person from getting a quality audio signal.
The rule applies to any community or unit in which the resident has an ownership or leasehold interest, and where this individual enjoys “exclusive use and control.”
So What Can an HOA Do?
Nothing in the rule prevents an HOA or condo board from establishing reasonable safety restrictions. For example, you can generally safely ban installations that would result in a dish overhanging a walkway. However, you cannot enact a restriction that is more draconian than that reasonably needed to provide for the safety of residents, visitors and staff.
The best thing to do is to draft the rules as narrowly as possible to accomplish your objectives as a homeowners association.
These restrictions would be acceptable:
- Prohibiting installation within X number of feet of a power line.
- Prohibiting dishes on fire escapes, stairwells or any other common area.
- Restrictions dictating proper methods for installation – (provided the approved methods do not unreasonably add cost or delay installation.
- Prohibitions on installation on rooftops or exterior walls. These are generally not considered exclusive use areas, nor are balconies or patios shared with other residents.
You can also generally enforce a reasonable restriction for the purpose of preserving a historic appearance.
You can also generally enforce restrictions in common areas, as opposed to private spaces reserved for a residents’ exclusive use, such as porches, lanais and patios.
You can generally enforce restrictions on installation where such installation may cause structural damage – such as compromising the integrity of vinyl siding.
Ensure that you publicize and disclose your satellite dish policies to every resident, owner or not – possibly with the use of a satellite dish addendum to lease agreements and/or restriction covenants.
HAM radio antennas, Citizens Band radio, and AM/FM radio antennas are not covered under the rule. Nor are Digital Audio Radio Services (DARS). However, 47 C.F.R. §97.15 does govern HAM radio antennas.
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.