Can my landlord prohibit me from installing a satellite dish?
May 17, 2007 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Can my landlord prohibit me from installing a satellite dish on my apartment's property?

I live on the first floor in an apartment building with six apartments. I'm wanting to get Directv but was recently denied permission by the rental company. At first, they tried to deny me permission because it would be damaging to the building. When I explained that there are a few ways that I could install the dish without having to mount it to the building, they then changed the argument: Now, they say that allowing me to install it would "be setting a precedent for everyone else that wishes to have satellite service as well."

Two questions:
1) Is this allowed? It seems like such a screwy reason for denying me permission that I feel like it has to be challengeable in some way.

2) If it's not allowed, should I challenge it? I've always had good relations with all my landlords, and I'm hesitant to raise too big a stink about it. What might happen if I do?
posted by soonertbone to Law & Government (36 answers total)
This will depend on where you are located. City, state, country?
posted by chiababe at 8:19 AM on May 17, 2007

well, i found the federal law on this here . Seems like it depends on whether or not you have some outdoor area that you have exclusive use of. If so, then you have the legal right to put a dish there. If not, you may be SOL.
posted by alkupe at 8:22 AM on May 17, 2007

Scratch that, I just found this on the FCC's website:

"In 1996, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted rules for Over-the-Air-Reception Devices (“OTARD” rules). The OTARD rules prohibit restrictions on a property owner or tenant’s right to install, maintain, or use an antenna to receive video programming from direct broadcast satellites (DBS), broadband radio services (formerly referred to as multichannel multipoint distribution services or MMDS), and television broadcast stations (TVBS). However, there are exceptions to the OTARD rules, including provisions for safety and preservation of historic areas."

Poke around that to see if you are prohibited by any of the restrictions and if not, print this out for your landlord.
posted by chiababe at 8:24 AM on May 17, 2007

Yeah, they can keep you from mounting it to their building and they can put other restrictions on it (i.e. the need to carry a certain amount of liability insurance, which is usually included with your renter's) but they generally can't keep you from putting it up in the first place.
posted by kindall at 8:26 AM on May 17, 2007

Check your lease. There might be wording in there that doesn't allow you to do so. I don't know your rental situation or what your landlord may or may not be governed by, but I know our Condo Association does not allow satellite dishes at all.

I think if you challenge it too hard, it's bound to create some ill will between you and your landlord.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:30 AM on May 17, 2007

who the hell checks w/their landlord before putting up a dish, shoulda just done it...that fcc rule seems pretty convincing though....

i'd print it out and take it to the landlord and say you've already got the installer on the way
posted by Salvatorparadise at 8:46 AM on May 17, 2007

As someone who works in real estate I assure you that they have every right to deny you from installing a satellite dish. You may be renting the place but they still own the property. The point they made about this setting a different precedent is not a cop out but an actually valid excuse. Satellite dishes are unsightly no matter where you put them! Just get regular cable and save yourself the time and effort it is going to take to fight a rule which you have no chance defeating.
posted by pwally at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2007

Yeah, they can keep you from mounting it to their building and they can put other restrictions on it (i.e. the need to carry a certain amount of liability insurance, which is usually included with your renter's).

In my apartment complex, the only restriction is that you have to have sufficient renters' insurance to cover any potential damage or whatever caused by your dish.

In my previous apartment complex, you were prohibited from attaching them to the building, thus the only people who could have them were those who had ground floor apartments or balconies, on the ground floor they attached them to a stick in the ground, and on the balconies they attached them to the balcony railing.

Honestly, if they are saying no & you find a way around it anyway, that leaves you open to having pissed them off and dealing with a lot of foot-dragging when it comes to needing something from them. I'd suggest keeping this issue in mind when your lease is up, and if you shop around for a new place, ask about setting up a dish before you sign any new leases.
posted by tastybrains at 8:56 AM on May 17, 2007

Check your lease. There might be wording in there that doesn't allow you to do so.

There may be language in there that ostensibly bars it, but they may have no ability to enforce it. (They couldn't stop you from installing an 802.11g network, even if they gave themselves the "right" to, because whether or not you can do that is up to the FCC.)
posted by oaf at 9:02 AM on May 17, 2007

I would also contact customer service at the dish provider to see if they have any knowledge and experience in such matters.
posted by caddis at 9:08 AM on May 17, 2007

I do know that a lot of times the satellite installers completely screw up the wiring, creating a hassle for future tenants who want basic cable. Our Cox install fee was higher because they had to fix what the satellite people messed up.

Do you really need satellite? Is it worth arguing with the landlord about? What about Digital Cable?
posted by radioamy at 9:08 AM on May 17, 2007

Absolutely. And I think that their argument about it setting a precedent is valid.
posted by Ostara at 9:10 AM on May 17, 2007

who the hell checks w/their landlord before putting up a dish, shoulda just done it.

Generally, satellite dish providers require the owner's permission before they install a dish on a rental property. When I was renting a house I had to have a signed note from my landlord before Dish Network would perform the installation. I know they are sometimes lax about this, but it is at least *supposed* to be a requirement on a rental unit.
posted by The Gooch at 9:19 AM on May 17, 2007

If possible I would install the dish in a non-destructive way, meaning no drilling into their building. You can bolt it onto a railing, or in a pinch I've seen people mount these to a 4x4 which was then supported by a bucket of quick-dry cement. Its ghetto, but then generally so are satellite dishes...

Otherwise, as some have said you can probably do it and there is nothing your landlords can do "legally" but then they are going to be pissy with you in other ways.
posted by wfrgms at 9:30 AM on May 17, 2007

2nd checking with the install company, they will have dealt with this before. When I was a renter, we used "dish-in-a-bucket"--a dish attached to a post sunk in a 5 gallon bucket filled with concrete. The landlord wouldn't let us attach it to the house, and the tripods you can buy are too flimsy and get blown around in wind. We just set the bucket on our patio. Our lease said nothing dishes specifically, and what you put on your patio is certainly your own business and not the business of the landlord. If you have no outside space included in your lease, this probably won't work.
posted by jtfowl0 at 9:37 AM on May 17, 2007

our lease said nothing about dishes specifically...Or, on preview, what wfrgms said.
posted by jtfowl0 at 9:39 AM on May 17, 2007

When I lived in NY I moved into a building that was newly converted. They had wired it for cable on the inside...but never gotten cable hooked up to the building. For the first four months we lived there, we called the landlord about the cable every couple of weeks. Then we gave up and announced that we were getting directv. They said no. We waited another couple of months for cable, and when nothing happened, we called directv and got the dish installed on the roof. The landlords told us we couldn't have it. We told them if they really wanted to they could break our lease. They left it up.

posted by miss tea at 9:59 AM on May 17, 2007

Here (scroll down) is a legal brief on the FCC's stance on satellite dishes; it appears they side pretty strongly with the homeowner; similar protections might extend to renters. Also, in order to minimize any hard feelings you might want to invest in some camouflage to make the dish less obtrusive.
posted by TedW at 10:03 AM on May 17, 2007

They look ugly, which is why some rental companies don't allow them. My old place didn't.
posted by chunking express at 10:07 AM on May 17, 2007

I know our Condo Association does not allow satellite dishes at all.

Going by TedW's link, yes, they do allow them. They may just not know it.
posted by oaf at 10:08 AM on May 17, 2007

No, oaf, we don't allow them. It's in the guidelines that each of us homeowners agreed to.
posted by jerseygirl at 10:20 AM on May 17, 2007

The FCC rules carry the weight of Federal law; they supercede the landlord's property rights, homeowners' association covenants, etc. Basically they can say that you can't attach anything to or drill holes in their building, or otherwise damage anything, and there are some cases (safety, historical properties) where they can flat-out say no, but in general they have to let you put up a pizzabox sat-TV dish or OTA antenna.

In my apt complex what most people do is go down to Home Depot, get a bucket (5 gal. I think) and a sack of Quickcrete, and the mast that they're going to attach the satellite dish to. You mix the Quickcrete in the bucket (do this on a level surface), stick the mast in there, and let it set. Viola; you have your mount, and you don't need to dig, drill, or screw into the building.

Send the landlord/leasing company a copy of the FCC rules and see what they have to say. Unless they can come up with an objection, you've got the law on your side.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:30 AM on May 17, 2007

This is very interesting -- I would have instinctively said that the owner could preclude you, but the FCC rule is very interesting. If applicable, it would override whatever the lease or deed says, which I think is what oaf was getting at.

DirecTV offers some advice here. And I found this more helpful as to the limits of the FCC rule. I would trust the legal memo referenced by TedW about as far as I could throw it, unless by some chance he wrote it.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:39 AM on May 17, 2007

No, oaf, we don't allow them.

Yes, you do. Federal law trumps your agreement.
posted by oaf at 10:51 AM on May 17, 2007

what oaf was getting at

Yes, exactly. Your landlord could ban 802.11 networks, for example, but that does not restrict you in any way, because the FCC says you're allowed to operate it.
posted by oaf at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2007

More specifically, the FCC says (bold is mine, italics are not):
We also affirm that the consumer protections for the installation and use of consumer antennas under the FCC's Over-the-Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rules apply to unlicensed devices. By ther terms, these rules apply, among other things, to consumer antennas - one-meter or less in size - used for transmitting and/or receiving any fixed wireless signal of any commercial nonbroadcast communications signal that is transmitted via wireless technology to or from a customer location. The rules prohibit homeowner associations, landlords, state and local governments, or any other third parties from placing restrictions that impair a customer antenna user's ability to install, maintain, or use such customer antennas transmitting and/or receiving commercial nonbroadcast communications signals when the antenna is located "on property within the exclusive use or control" of the user where the user has a "direct or indirect ownership or leasehold interest in the property, except under certain exceptions for safety and historic preservation.
posted by oaf at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2007

The rule does not apply to common areas that are owned by a landlord, a community association, or jointly by condominium or cooperative owners where the antenna user does not have an exclusive use area. Such common areas may include the roof or exterior wall of a multiple dwelling unit. Therefore, restrictions on antennas installed in or on such common areas are enforceable.

Homeowners in our complex only own from the studs in. Everything else is common area maintained by and jointly owned by the association of owners. External walls, roofs, patios, steps, lawn, porches... all of it. No exclusive use.

Where this might apply to the OP is if his own landlord is bound by similar restrictions and in similar circumstances. We're recently familiar with it because the sole rental unit in our complex recently tried to attach a satellite dish to one of their two external walls and it got slapped down by the association.
posted by jerseygirl at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2007


If the OP has a patio that only he has access to, it doesn't matter that he doesn't own it.
posted by oaf at 11:15 AM on May 17, 2007

He may not be able to attach it to the wall, but he can put it on a patio using the wooden-post-and-five-gallons-of-concrete-in-a-bucket solution.
posted by oaf at 11:17 AM on May 17, 2007

I think there's an off chance that jerseygirl is correct about her specific situation. I suppose that it is possible that someone would "buy" the inside of a house but not the surrounding land, porches, window-sills, patios, yards, etc.

More likely, I think, is that Association enforces most of its mandates through a covenant that runs with the land and the Association does not, in fact, own the porches, patios, or yards, but the covenants give them some measure of control over those areas.

As oaf has posted, the FCC rules trump the covenants.

If there are rules in the covenants about something, then the Association probably doesn't own it. You don't need covenants to tell someone that they can't interfere with your property. So if the CA has some covenants that say "Thou shalt not put life-size statues of disney characters on thy porch" then it's pretty clear that the CA doesn't own the porch, they merely control it by contract/property law.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2007

Wow, thanks for the responses, everybody.

To answer a few questions:
--I'm in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

--I'm wanting to get satellite to keep up with my undergrad's football season in the fall (hard to get Southern football in Big 10 country.)

--I don't agree that their "precedent" argument is valid. They seem to be motivated by laziness. That is, they just don't want to have to deal with a bunch of tenants who all want to get satellite. It doesn't seem to be an aesthetic concern (believe me, I don't think a dish is going to ruin the aesthetics of student housing in Ann Arbor.)

--I guess I'll have to think about whether I want to make an issue out of this. I'm a law student, and maybe it's not good to be that annoying guy who comes in with obscure legal passages in order to get my way.

Thanks again for the input.
posted by soonertbone at 12:00 PM on May 17, 2007

Short version: the law says you can have a dish. However, the landlord can prohibit you from mounting it to the building, and can prevent you from going on the roof (that's a safety issue so they will not budge). So basically unless you have a south facing window/patio, and a way to securely mount it that does not physically attach to the building, forget it.
posted by ilsa at 12:11 PM on May 17, 2007

When I called to order a dish, the cable company specifically asked for signed approval from the building manager. They said they didn't want to deal with the hassle of arguments.
posted by jamesonandwater at 12:37 PM on May 17, 2007

It's not really an obscure legal passage. You put it up according to regulations, they sue you or "impair" you, you countersue, it's an easy win that won't even go to trial (the Feds have already preempted any recourse) *and* you'll get full fees.

Here's a longer version.
Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule
The rule applies to video antennas including direct-to-home satellite dishes that are less than one meter (39.37") in diameter (or of any size in Alaska)

How big *are* the dishes in Alaska?
posted by meehawl at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2007

In my current apartment, the least says we can't have dishes, but lots of people do anyway. One tenant has one mounted on a pole stuck in the ground just outside their bedroom window. It's still there, so presumably the landlord doesn't care that much. Unfortunately, there are other provisions of the lease that they're lax about, like tenants being required to pick up their dog's shit rather than leave it on the lawn for someone else to step in.

Regardless, as everyone else has mentioned, if you can put it on an area which you exclusively control, you can have it. Generally that means a porch/balcony or indoors through a window. Yes, you can often get DBS through a window, presuming it faces in the proper direction.

They can prevent you from drilling holes or otherwise altering the structure, but they can't prevent you from threading some flat wire through a window or door.
posted by wierdo at 4:45 PM on May 17, 2007

Our landlord told us we couldn't have a dish when we moved in, also claiming we'd muck up the aesthetics of her dumpy building. I was going to protest, citing the FCC regulation, but decided against it for the reasons listed above. New people moved in across the hall a few months ago, showed her the rule and put up their dish without argument. Your landlord might just need to be educated on the issue. Some other buildings in the area "provide access" to the roof for dishes and charge $50-100. Even in those buildings though, the units with appropriately situated decks and patios can plop their dishes in a bucket and avoid the fee.

"As someone who works in real estate I assure you that they have every right to deny you from installing a satellite dish."

Wouldn't you want to check to make sure you're not completely wrong before putting your professional reputation on the line like that?
posted by jaysus chris at 1:12 AM on May 18, 2007

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