The OTARD Rule: Are Satellite Dishes In HOAs Allowed?

When it comes to satellite dishes in HOA communities, there are certain regulations, such as the OTARD rule, that apply. Whether you're a homeowner or a board member, it is important to understand these regulations.

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When it comes to satellite dishes in HOA communities, there are certain regulations, such as the OTARD rule, that apply. Whether you’re a homeowner or a board member, it is important to understand these regulations.


What Is the OTARD Rule?

Although the age of streaming services is in full swing, there are still homeowners who tune in to broadcast television. To get a good signal, broadcast television often requires the installation of satellite dishes or antennas. Typically, these satellite dishes or antennas sit at the highest point of a home, such as a roof or a balcony. For homes in HOA communities, though, homeowners don’t have complete freedom on architectural changes or additions.

Homeowners associations are notorious for regulating — or even outright prohibiting — certain alterations. For example, an HOA may prohibit owners from building sheds or fences. But, when it comes to satellite dishes, federal and state laws do offer some protection.

At the federal level, these protections come in the form of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (FCC OTARD Rule). Both the Telecommunications Act and the OTARD Rule prohibit homeowners associations from banning the installation of satellite dishes and antennas.

Several states have also enacted their own laws protecting the rights of homeowners to install and use satellite dishes in HOA communities. One example is California under Civil Code Section 4725.


Prohibited Restrictions Under the OTARD Rule

The FCC OTARD Rules prohibit HOAs from imposing restrictions that impede a resident’s ability to install, maintain, or use a satellite dish or antenna covered by the rule. This rule not only applies to homeowners associations and condominiums but also to government entities.

According to the rule, a restriction impedes if it:

  • OTARD ruleUnreasonably delays or prevents the use of an antenna covered by the rule;
  • Unreasonably increases the cost of installation or use of an antenna covered by the rule; or,
  • Prevents a person from receiving or transmitting an adequate signal from an antenna covered by the rule.

Restrictions prohibited under the OTARD law are considered void and unenforceable in homeowners associations. As such, HOA boards should check the OTARD Rule on antennas and satellite dishes before enacting their own operating rules.


Reasonable Restrictions Under the OTARD Rule

The OTARD Rule on HOA does not completely strip away an association’s power to place restrictions on satellite dishes in HOA communities. Homeowners associations can still enforce legitimate safety restrictions related to satellite dishes and antennas. This is true even if the safety restriction impedes a resident’s ability to install, maintain, or use the dish. However, the restriction must be necessary to preserve public safety.

Additionally, associations can also enforce restrictions that support historic preservation. As with safety restrictions, historic preservation restrictions also apply even if they impede the installation, maintenance, and use of the satellite dish. To impose such restrictions, HOAs must qualify for historic preservation. This means the community must have a property, site, structure, or object that belongs to the National Register of Historic Places (or is at least eligible for inclusion).

Both types of exemptions must pose no additional burden than necessary to ensure safety or achieve historic preservation.

You may wonder whether an HOA can limit the number of satellite dishes on a single property. According to the FCC, a rule may not allow only a single antenna if more than one is needed to transmit and receive service.


What About Common Areas?

Homeowners associations have common areas that are open to all members. These can include parking lots, walking trails, swimming pools, clubhouses, and fitness centers. And, in general, homeowners can’t install satellite dishes in common areas owned by the HOA. Federal and state laws only give homeowners the right to do so on their own property or in exclusive common areas.

Speaking of exclusive common areas, it is important to define what counts as such in an association’s governing documents. If the CC&Rs say that townhome roofs are exclusive common areas, then owners can install satellite dishes there as dictated by an FCC declaratory ruling.


The Purpose of HOA Rules on Satellite Dishes

One of the pitfalls of living in an HOA community is that owners don’t have the liberty to make architectural changes as they please. This is in stark contrast to homeowners who live outside of such communities. But, this pitfall is also an advantage.

The purpose of an HOA’s architectural guidelines is to protect property value. Associations want to maintain a certain aesthetic for their neighborhoods in order to preserve their character. This, in turn, enhances curb appeal and boosts property values in the community.

As a homeowner, you naturally want to protect perhaps one of the biggest investments of your life. Property value is not only dictated by your own home but it can also be affected by your neighbors’ homes. With an HOA ensuring everyone mows their lawn and maintains their property, you’re more likely to keep the value of your property high.


Seeking Architectural Change Approval

If residents want to install satellite dishes in HOA homes, they will usually need to go through an approval process. This is the same process that owners have to go through when they want to make other architectural changes.

But, what does this process entail? While the exact steps can vary from one association to another, this process typically involves the following:

  1. install satellite dishes in HOAHomeowners must submit a completed application form for the architectural change or addition. At a minimum, this form should consist of a detailed description of the proposed alteration, the location of the property, and information on the contractor or provider. It should also include the requester’s information. Many HOAs also require owners to provide an estimated completion date for the project.
  2. If necessary, homeowners may need to submit visual plans or blueprints of the change. In this case, it may be a photo of the satellite dish as well as its specifications.
  3. Once the HOA board or architectural committee has made a decision, homeowners should receive notice of the decision. In California, if an application is denied, the board or committee must provide a written explanation of the decision. Owners should also have the opportunity to make an appeal.
  4. After an owner receives approval, they can begin with the architectural change. Owners must make sure they follow the specifications and timelines in the submitted plans. If the actual change strays from the proposal, the board may be able to order a reversal of the change at the owner’s expense.


The Final Word

Satellite dishes in HOA communities are becoming less of a common sight. Still, that does not mean associations can ban them altogether. Homeowners do have a right under federal and state laws, specifically the OTARD Rule, to install and use satellite dishes or antennas. Understanding these laws is imperative in ensuring the HOA stays out of trouble.

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