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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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