The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
I own a condo, and want to install a satellite dish. The condo association says dishes aren’t allowed. Can they prohibit dishes and antennas?
It depends on who owns the spot where you want to put the dish. If you own it, as part of your condo unit, they can’t stop you from installing a dish. But if it’s a common area, shared by the whole condo association, they can.
Assuming, of course that the dish isn’t bigger than 1 meter (39.37 inches), and the condo isn’t some kind of historical landmark. Bigger dishes, and installations on landmarks, can be prohibited even on condo property you own.
Federal regulations lay down the law in this area. They’re based on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and are extremely pro-consumer. That’s probably because promoting dishes is good for the lucrative satellite and wireless broadcast business, which probably had something to say about how the rules got written.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted what lawyers call the OTARD rules (“Over the Air Reception Devices”). These rules basically say that if you own it or rent it, you can put a dish or antenna on it, and nobody can stop you.
The rules prohibit anything that impairs “the installation, maintenance, or use of” dishes and antennas. The FCC spells out that this prohibition broadly applies to any restriction “imposed by local governments, including zoning, land-use or building regulations; by homeowner, town home condominium or cooperative association rules, including deed restrictions; and by manufactured housing (mobile home) park owners and landlords, including lease restrictions.”
The only catch is that you have to be able to install your dish or antenna completely within the space you own or rent. It’s your space if you’re the only one who can use it.
The FCC suggests that antennas are OK on “a balcony, terrace, deck or patio that only you can use,” but NOT in common areas like hallways, walkways, or on the roofs and walls of apartment buildings and condos.
So, you can’t put a dish in a yard or on a roof that’s a common area, or drill through exterior walls, since those are usually part of the common area. But that would be different in a homeowner’s association consisting of single family homes, where yards, roofs, and walls are usually not common areas.
You can install an antenna on a patio or balcony that’s part of only your unit, and not a common area. And if you can put it on your balcony, the condo association can’t prohibit it from extending over common areas.
And the number of dishes or antennas you install can’t be limited, as long as they’re needed for proper reception.
Renters get similar rights. If they rent a house and control the yard, they’re free to install a dish in the yard—without even the landlord’s consent. The FCC specifically says “renters are not required to obtain the consent of the landlord prior to installing a video antenna” in areas they control.
More information is at: www.fcc.gov/media/over-air-reception-devices-rule.
Updated: December 1969