By: Barbara G. Hager
When it comes to satellite dishes and condominium associations, “going with your gut” may get you into legal trouble!
If you have lived in your common interest community since the early 1980’s you probably remember the time when the Association could forbid satellite antennas and dishes being put up by unit owners. However, the federal government created a new law in 1996 which protects rights of unit owners in condominiums to have a satellite dish or antenna. That new law was called the “Over-the-Air Reception Devices” (“OTARD”) and was adopted as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
After this law was enacted and continuing to the present, Associations may not forbid unit owners from putting up a satellite dish, as long as the dish is no bigger than a meter (39.37”) in diameter. The Association can enforce their other rules regarding no objects being placed on the roof, front of unit or on the outside walls of the unit. Under the law, the Association cannot prohibit the unit owner from placing the dish or antenna on their limited common area decks and balconies. The dish can also be put on the railings of those decks and balconies.
The OTARD law forbids restrictions that might impair the installation, maintenance or use of the types of antennas (dish, TV antennas and wireless cable antennas). The rule does not prohibit legitimate safety concerns. Additionally, historic districts and buildings on the National Historic Register are exempt from the rule, and can forbid satellite antennas and dishes altogether.
Importantly, under OTARD the Association may not require the unit owner to get prior written permission before putting up the dish. That would be considered placing an unreasonable restriction or delay to obtaining televised services. Of course, any Board member or property manager would say: “we have to be able to control where they place the dish!” This is where your rules would come in. The Association’s rules should have a section advising the unit owners where it is permitted to place the dish. Those rules would include things such as, any attachment device must not damage the limited common element when it is removed.
Additionally, the Association is prohibited from requiring that the dish be put in a place where reception would be impossible or substantially degraded. OTARD therefore prohibits the Association from requiring the dish to be placed inside the unit or in a garage.
I have seen several sets of Association rules which still require prior written permission to install satellite dishes or TV antennas. This is against the federal OTARD law and may invite lawsuits. If you would like assistance in drafting proper satellite dish rules, call us!