Associations are often interested in regulating or prohibiting satellite dishes for at least two reasons:
- The appearance of satellite dishes diminishes the appearance of a community.
- Satellite dishes interfere with maintenance and can cause maintenance problems because of how they are installed.
The federal government placed the interests of owners who want satellite dishes ahead of the interest of associations by passage of Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
In general terms, this law restricts the ability of associations to regulate satellite dishes except in common areas.
More specifically, 47 C.F.R., Section 1.4000, a rule enacted under such law, prohibits enforcement of an association’s rules which impair the use of satellite dishes “on property within the exclusive use or control of the antenna user where the user has a direct or indirect ownership.” For purpose of this rule, “impair” means to 1) unreasonably delay or prevent installation, maintenance or use of a permitted satellite dish; 2) unreasonably increase the cost of installation, maintenance or use of the dish; and 3) preclude reception of an adequate quality signal.
Impact of FCC Rule
The rule impacts homeowners associations much more than condominium associations.
With condominiums, owners are entitled to install satellite dishes on private balconies or private patios, but the roof and exterior walls can still be off limits because they are common elements.
Homeowners associations, where the owners have fee simple ownership from the ground up, are a different story. Because the roofs and exterior walls are owned by the individual owners, these areas cannot be put off limits as they are with condominiums.
Thus, in a homeowners association, the owners can place satellite dishes not only on private balconies and patios, but also can usually do so on roofs and exterior walls. For exterior walls, an exception would be if the satellite dish was mounted to stick out over property owned by the association.
Problems With Roof Placement.
Often roofs in homeowners associations are not individualized to each unit. Instead, the roof is constructed as an integrated single structure over all the units in a building, with the association ending up with roof responsibility. Because of this, associations do not want satellite dishes on roofs because the dishes can increase the need for maintenance and repair, and may void roof warranties. While this is unfair to homeowners associations, the FCC has not taken this unfairness into consideration. The FCC rules allow placement of satellite dishes on roofs in homeowners associations.
What Rules Available.
Many existing associations’ rules against satellite dishes are too broad and are unenforceable. However, the FCC has indicated that certain rules may be permissible. For instance, the association can state where to put a satellite dish if the required location gives as good a signal, at no greater installation and maintenance cost, than the prohibited locations. Also, owners can be required to paint their satellite dishes to blend into the surrounding community if painting does not delay installation, impair maintenance or use, or cause unreasonable expense. In addition, the association can pass safety rules as to how satellite dishes are attached, as long as the safety objectives and justifications are stated in the rule. A rule requiring a homeowner to obtain written approval or a permit for installation is usually ruled unenforceable by the FCC.
Interestingly, as satellite dishes start to be used for connecting with the Internet, and thus become transmitters as well as receivers, some additional rule-making authority becomes available to associations. This is because transmitting antennas expose those nearby to radio frequency waves which are more intense, because the transmission source is closer than satellite transmissions. Associations may require professional installation for transmitting antennas based on the safety exception to the rule. If transmitting antennas come into general use, the radio frequency exposure which they produce will be analyzed more, possibly leading to additional authority for associations for these type of dishes on the basis of safety.
A Practical Alternative.
Satellite dishes are economically competitive with cable TV services based on the cable company’s normal retail rates. However, when associations negotiate bulk rate cable deals with the cable systems, that often reduces cable TV costs by one-third or more. Thus, fewer owners will choose satellite dishes when associations create a competitive advantage for cable TV service. A good source for additional information on the FCC’s rule on satellite dishes is the FCC’s Fact Sheet. Click Here to connect.
Important Note: This article is for general information only and is not intended to give any specific legal advice or opinion which should be sought from an attorney. The facts of any particular situation need to be examined before deciding on a legal course of action.