Know your antenna rights

Windows Vista and Windows 7 both have excellent support for over-the-air HDTV signals. If you’re in a city with a clear line of sight to the local broadcaster, you might be able to get by with an indoor antenna. But if you’re in a marginal location, you’ll get better results with an outdoor antenna, on your rooftop if it’s a single family home, or on a balcony or patio if you live in a condominium where the rooftop is a common area and not under your exclusive control.

With the transition to digital broadcasts earlier this year, it’s even more important to have a great digital input source. So what do you do if your homeowners association says “no outdoor antennas”? You point them to the official Federal Communications Commission Fact Sheet on Placement of Antennas. It’s a summary of the Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule, created by direction of Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Here are some relevant excerpts:

Q: What types of antennas are covered by the rule?

A: The rule applies to the following types of antennas:

(1) A "dish" antenna that is one meter (39.37") or less in diameter (or any size dish if located in Alaska) and is designed to receive direct broadcast satellite service, including direct-to-home satellite service, or to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals via satellite.

(2) An antenna that is one meter or less in diameter or diagonal measurement and is designed to receive video programming services via broadband radio service (wireless cable) or to receive or transmit fixed wireless signals other than via satellite.

(3) An antenna that is designed to receive local television broadcast signals. Masts higher than 12 feet above the roofline may be subject to local permitting requirements.

In addition, antennas covered by the rule may be mounted on "masts" to reach the height needed to receive or transmit an acceptable quality signal (e.g. maintain line-of-sight contact with the transmitter or view the satellite). Masts higher than 12 feet above the roofline may be subject to local permitting requirements for safety purposes. Further, masts that extend beyond an exclusive use area may not be covered by this rule.


Q: What types of restrictions are prohibited?

A: The rule prohibits restrictions that impair a person’s ability to install, maintain, or use an antenna covered by the rule. The rule applies to state or local laws or regulations, including zoning, land-use or building regulations, private covenants, homeowners’ association rules, condominium or cooperative association restrictions, lease restrictions, or similar restrictions on property within the exclusive use or control of the antenna user where the user has an ownership or leasehold interest in the property. A restriction impairs if it: (1) unreasonably delays or prevents use of; (2) unreasonably increases the cost of; or (3) precludes a person from receiving or transmitting an acceptable quality signal from an antenna covered under the rule. The rule does not prohibit legitimate safety restrictions or restrictions designed to preserve designated or eligible historic or prehistoric properties, provided the restriction is no more burdensome than necessary to accomplish the safety or preservation purpose.


Q: Whose antenna restrictions are prohibited?

A: 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.

Q: If I live in a condominium or an apartment building, does this rule apply to me?

A: The rule applies to antenna users who live in a multiple dwelling unit building, such as a condominium or apartment building, if the antenna user has an exclusive use area in which to install the antenna. "Exclusive use" means an area of the property that only you, and persons you permit, may enter and use to the exclusion of other residents. For example, your condominium or apartment may include a balcony, terrace, deck or patio that only you can use, and the rule applies to these areas. The rule does not apply to common areas, such as the roof, the hallways, the walkways or the exterior walls of a condominium or apartment building. Restrictions on antennas installed in these common areas are not covered by the Commission’s rule. For example, the rule would not apply to restrictions that prevent drilling through the exterior wall of a condominium or rental unit and thus restrictions may prohibit installation that requires such drilling.

If your HOA gives you a hard time over your antenna, print this out and send it to them.

[Updated to add more details about rights of condo/apartment dwellers.]

7 thoughts on “Know your antenna rights

  1. The FCC regs do NOT allow you to place an antenna on the roof of your condo/townhome. The roof is not within the exclusive use or control of the owner (it is considered common property).

    However, you CAN place the antenna on a big pole mounted to your deck or patio; your deck/patio are considered exclusive use areas of the property. When mounting the antenna, you need to ensure that it isn’t in contact with any common areas of the property (ie: can’t mount to the siding, can’t have legs of a stand touching common areas).

    1. Good point, Michael. I have a single family home within an HOA, but some of my neighbors are in condos. I made a few minor edits to make the point clearer. Thanks.

  2. I’ve been dealing with HOAs pretty much my entire adult life in four different states. Even been on the board of several. They’re a necessary evil, I guess.

  3. Just a piece of advice, if possible, try and set your antenna up so you can rotate it. Because of the placement of the various transmitters in Kansas City, I had to settle for a set-up that gets most, but not all, of the available channels. If there is anything on PBS I want to watch in HD, I need to climb up into the attic and rotate about 45 degrees north. My antenna is mounted in attic above the garage and when its pointed correctly, its works great.

  4. No fun to deal with HOAs…

    Check out the rant on youtube… Even though its an ad for a book it’s hilarious. If the book is half as crazy as the rant it’s probably well worth it!

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