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TV Antennas, the FCC, and Your HOA

Since starting this blog I’ve encountered many that want to use an antenna to watch TV. The issue that deters many of these folks is their HOA (Home Owner Association) rules and regulations. Well, today I’m going to tell you why the FCC’s Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule or OTARD (lovely acronym) states that in a majority of cases your HOA cannot stop you from putting an antenna on your roof.

When putting together a solution to watch TV without cable, many use an antenna to watch their local channels. Unfortunately some HOA organizations have written “no antenna” clauses into their rules. Many do not realize that this is usually in direct violation of the FCC’s OTARD rule.

A Homeowners Association (HOA) or other organization can not prevent you from installing a TV antenna. This is clearly stated in the FCC OTARD rules.

What is OTARD

The Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD) are rules adopted by the FCC under the direction of the United States Congress according to the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

OTARD states:

The rule (47 C.F.R. Section 1.4000) has been in effect since October 1996, and it prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming. 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), TV antennas, and wireless cable antennas. The rule prohibits most restrictions that: (1) unreasonably delay or prevent installation, maintenance or use; (2) unreasonably increase the cost of installation, maintenance or use; or (3) preclude reception of an acceptable quality signal.

I’ve heard of some HOA organizations claiming that this rule applies to only government rules and regulations and not non-governmental organizations. However, further reading of the FCC rules will prove this isn’t the case. In the Q&A section it is clearly stated:

The rule applies to restrictions imposed by local governments, including zoning, land-use or building regulations; by homeowner, townhome, condominium or cooperative association rules, including deed restrictions, covenants, by-laws and similar restrictions; and by manufactured housing (mobile home) park owners and landlords, including lease restrictions.  The rule only applies to restrictions on property where the viewer has an ownership or leasehold interest and exclusive use or control.

As you can see this pretty much covers most any private or public association or individual that may impose such a rule. There are rules on what a tenant can do to install an antenna on a dwelling they do not own.  Aside from that however, there is little leeway in terms of restricting anyone from installing a TV antenna on a property they own.

So then why do HOA continue to implement these ridiculous Antenna restrictions? I usually encounter 2 reasons. First, they are ignorant of the OTARD rules and just require a simple educating on the rules. Second, some HOAs completely misinterpret one section of OTARD. There is language that states “The rule does not apply to television antennas used to receive a distant signal.”

Also be aware that the rule prohibits your HOA from putting  a complicated process in place to get approval for your antenna, as that would “unreasonably delay” your antenna installation. This is clearly defined in OTARD:

A local restriction that prohibits all antennas would prevent viewers from receiving signals, and is prohibited by the Commission’s rule.  Procedural requirements can also unreasonably delay installation, maintenance or use of an antenna covered by this rule.  For example, local rules or regulations that require a person to obtain a permit or approval prior to installation create unreasonable delay and are generally prohibited.  Permits or prior approval necessary to serve a legitimate written safety or historic preservation purpose may be permissible.  Although a simple notification process (e.g. post installation) might be permissible, such a process cannot be used as a prior approval requirement and may not delay or increase the cost of installation.  The burden is on the association to show that a notification process does not violate our rule.

I’ve seen an HOA claim that since a TV antenna can receive a signal at a distance that they can then impose restrictions under this language. This is a misunderstanding of what “distant signal” means. A distant signal is one that originates from a distant station outside your media market. In FCC documents relating to TV broadcast carriage for cable and satellite providers the FCC defines:

A “distant station” is one that originates outside of a satellite subscriber’s local television market . . .

Therefore if a broadcast channel is in your local media market, it is cont considered a “distant signal” and an antenna cannot not be profited to receive those channels. This includes channels that are widely viewable in your area.

There are situations where an HOA can impose regulations on antennas when they act in the interests of historic preservation. There are stringent rules around such regulations and are laid out in the following language:

Restrictions necessary for historic preservation also may be permitted even if they impair installation, maintenance or use of the antenna.  To qualify for this exemption, the property may be any prehistoric or historic district, site, building, structure or object included in, or eligible for inclusion on, the National Register of Historic Places.  In addition, restrictions necessary for historic preservation must be no more burdensome than necessary to accomplish the historic preservation goal.  They also must be imposed and enforced in a non-discriminatory manner, as compared to other modern structures that are comparable in size and weight and to which local regulation would normally apply.

Therefore if you have a small outdoor antenna like the Mohu Sky 60 I have on my roof, you should be able to tuck it out of view to remain in historic compliance. There should also be ample opportunities to justify your antenna. All you would need to do is find a comparable sized modern device allowed in the community. If a device like a satellite dish is allowed then so should your antenna.

So now that it’s clear that HOA’s cannot restrict you from installing a TV antenna in most cases, what can you do if you are facing opposition when trying to install one?

How to Handle your HOA

The first thing I recommend is to play nice. First try to educate people on the law and try to make compromises as long as they don’t impede your ability to receive TV signals. Inform your HOA of the FCC OTARD rules in writing and at your local HOA meeting. Being combative tends to result in more conflict.

If the HOA continues to be unreasonable, then you can call the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALL FCC (1-888-225-5322), which is a toll-free number, or 202-418-2120. They should be able to help you.

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Categories: Guides
Dennis Restauro :Dennis is the founder of Grounded Reason. He also hosts the Grounded Reason Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: Follow Dennis on Twitter

View Comments (23)

  • Thanks for this article, Dennis.

    Literally the day you published it, I received notice from my HOA that the flat antenna in my window must be removed. I'll be using the links posted here to argue otherwise, noncombatively of course.

    (Let's go O's!)

  • Very good information to know...but what about apartment complexes? Mine requires a $300 thousand insurance policy, and I suspect that would not be honored when it came right down to it. And being that it's a designated senior facility, well the insurance cost would be prohibitive.

    Comments from you please David? Thanks.

    • Requiring a $300K insurance policy to install a TV antenna is definitely against FCC rules.

    • Apartment complexes are covered, however there are rules governing installation. This is to protect the property owner. Requiring an insurance policy sounds like a violation of the OTARD rule. I would call the number In the post for official word.

  • Hi Dennis,

    Nice article by the way. If anyone needs it, I have a form letter from the SBCA dealing exactly what HOA's can and cannot do regarding OTA antennas.

  • What are the rules and regulations for Internet towers such as those used for rock solid internet. Do these fall under the same since this may be used for "TV shows" use?

    • The question is kind of vague but the rules were expanded to include any fixed commercial wireless signal, which would include equipment to receive internet and cell phone signals.

    • I don't think so as that spectrum doesn't fall under the "Public" spectrum that TV and Radio does.

  • Hi Dennis,

    I live in a 3 story condo building with 30 units per building. The buildings all have a central rooftop antenna and are wired for cable. Recent storm damaged antenna and HOA states that rather than maintain the antennas they are going to have all of them removed. Are they required to maintain the antennas? Half the units face away from the city so there's no option to use an indoor antenna and we are about 60 miles from the city. Before the storm I was able to get 66 stations and now nothing.

    • If the antennas are an amenity under your HOA covenants, they cannot remove them without an amendment to the Covenants.

    • It would depend on your contract. There is no FCC regulation saying the HOA has to maintain the antenna. However, they shouldn't be able to stop you from having one outside.

  • My condo development uses a central antenna on our building and prohibits us from installing an individual dish. I don't have a problem using the central antenna, but I was only allowed to have a 3rd party vendor, previously approved by the HOA, perform the connections, at a charge of $150, even though I have a work order from DirecTV stating that they would've connected me for free. The OTARD rules states: Restrictions based on the availability of a central antenna will generally be permissible provided that: 3) the costs associated with the use of the central antenna are not greater than the costs of installation, maintenance and use of an individual antenna covered under the rule.

    As I stated, DirecTV would've connected me for free. The HOA is still refusing to refund me the $150 I was charged by the vendor they forced me to use. Am I wrong or is the HOA wrong?

    • That's a case where you can take your HOA to small claims court. You don't need a lawyer, and the threat of taking them to court will generally cause them to settle for the amount of your claim rather than the more expensive (for them) process of the legal battle. Good luck!

    • I've contacted the FCC. While they agree with me that I should not have been charged more than what my service provider (DirecTV) would've charged, the FCC does not go after HOAs.

      • No the government does not do anything. It simply writes the laws..... it is then Your responsibility to hire a lawyer to enforce that law. If it had been me, since the Dish install was free, I would have left them put it on MY roof, and screw the HOA's ILLEGAL banning of antennas

      • You should show the person you talked to this. They do enforce your right against community associations.

  • Recently our HOA told our community that they were talking with a cable company about giving our community a deal if they (the HOA committee) could get the majority of community members to vote for such a deal. Well the Cable company said yes and offered the HOA a deal! It was presented to the community who was told if 2/3rs of community voted yes - the rest of us would have to take the service or pay for it without using it. The vote was made and the Cable company got more than enough votes to bring their product into community. And now every home owner here has to pay a monthly fee for the cost of service whether we take it our not. I am more than happy with who I have and some others are too. But right now we don't have any choice except to keep what we have and still pay the fee for nothing... or drop what we have and take their service. Which is more costly than what I have now, but doesn't offer what I want.

    • The OTARD rule only deals with your right to have an antenna to receive over the air channels.