Can Anyone Stop Me From Putting Up a Satellite Dish?


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As options for television channels have increased, satellite TV has become a very popular alternative to cable. Unfortunately, to receive these broadcasts, one needs to install a satellite dish on the outside of a building, and this can lead to disputes. Thus, many ask “can anyone stop me from putting up a satellite dish?”

The short answer is no. But, as with most things in the law, this answer requires some qualification.

Until 1997, there were no laws regarding the placement of satellite dishes. Thus, homeowners associations, apartment complexes, and condominiums often refused to allow their residents to install dishes in or around the property. Then, in 1997, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a set of regulations that said that satellite was an ideal competitor to cable and that it was unfair to the interests of consumers for anyone to prohibit the placement of a satellite dish. Thus, none of these entities can completely ban someone from installing a satellite dish, because that is a necessary component for receiving a satellite signal. These regulations are found today at 47 CFR § 1.4000.

Under this rule, private restrictions against satellite dishes that are less than one meter in diameter are presumptively unreasonable and prohibited. However, a restriction that has either a clearly defined and valid safety objective or that is necessary to preserve a recognized historic district will generally be upheld. Still, even if the regulation serves one of these two purposes, it may be only as burdensome as required to achieve the allowed purpose. A restriction may not impair a person's use of a particular type of receiver, and impairment will be found if the regulation delays or prevents installation, use, or maintenance, unreasonably increases the cost of these actions, or precludes reception of an acceptable quality signal.

Thus, while an apartment, homeowners associations, or condominium cannot unreasonably interfere with the installation of a satellite dish, it can regulate where the satellite dish owner can install it. While these organizations may not be able to ban their use all together or make the use unreasonably expensive, of poor signal quality, etc., they can require that the dish be placed in a location that makes it less obtrusive or that does not cause damage to the building. This may involve using clamps rather than screws to affix the dish to the building, or placing the dish on a tripod on a balcony rather than attaching it to the side or top of the structure. So long as the placement does not interfere with the device's ability to receive a signal nor make the installation, use, or maintenance more costly or overly difficult, the apartment, homeowners association, or condominiums rule will generally be allowed.

Be aware, however, that many of these entities will do everything they can to discourage the use of satellite without expressly stepping over the line. Thus, they may require placement of the dish somewhere that will be mildly inconvenient or unsightly for you (such as on a tripod on your porch), require you to carry insurance on the device or pay a deposit (particularly if installation will cause any damage to the building), etc. If you believe that your landlord or association is attempting to take one of these actions in violation of the FCC regulation, you should contact an attorney for guidance in how to proceed. You can find an attorney in your area by using the lawyer search function on HG.org.

It is worth noting that the requirements for placing satellite dishes only apply to dishes under one meter in diameter. Large dishes, like those used by local channel affiliates to receive direct broadcasts of network streams, still fall outside of these regulations. Thus, private organizations can still prevent the placement of these devices all together, particularly in settings with shared property like apartments and condominium buildings.

The FCC regulation also trumps state and local laws. Thus, jurisdictions that may still have antiquated zoning rules regarding that could be interpreted as prohibiting small satellite dishes cannot be enforced due to the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. This means that federal laws, including regulations promulgated by the FCC, trump state and local laws. Thus, any enforcement by local authorities would be illegal and you would be well advised to seek the assistance of an attorney to combat such improper enforcement.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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