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What’s wrong with the below statement?

“In accordance to an agreement between “X” Apartments and “Y” Entertaining, Inc., [I changed the names for privacy reasons] satellite dishes cannot be installed by residents. Residents must contact DirecTV in order to be connected to the satellite dishes already installed on the buildings.”

Answer: It’s illegal in a whole bunch of ways. Let’s count them, shall we?

One: If a renter has an “exclusive use area” and the installation of a satellite dish does not protrude or overhang, the renter has a legal right to install his own dish. In “X” Apartments all of the balconies would be applicable, as they are enclosed.

Two: The availability of a central DirecTV antenna from “Y” Entertaining restricts the renter to only DirecTV’s programming. If the renter wants DISH so he can get Showtime HD, he has the right to receive DISH and install DISH’s satellite antenna in an exclusive use area. In other words, the person would be entitled to receive service from a specific provider, not simply a provider selected by the landlord.

I think that’s sufficient. Praise be the FCC and Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

So What’s The Problem?

The FCC’s Over-The-Air-Reception-Devices or “OTARD” rules became effective for rental property where the renter has an exclusive use area, such as a balcony or patio, on January 22, 1999. The problem is that those rules were passed more than four years ago. Why are we still fighting this battle?

I understand that lawyers who draw up leases probably couldn’t care less about what the FCC says, except when it applies to them.

I also understand that “Y” Entertaining invested money installing a central antenna and associated electronics in each apartment building (and there are a bunch of them). But I’m willing to bet that it knows the FCC rules a heck of a lot better than “X” Apartments. But we’re talking money here, and I’m also sure that the agreement between the two parties went something like this:

“We’ll install the gear and then your apartments will be more attractive to renters,” said “Y” Entertaining.

“Great!,” said “X” Apartments. “And we’ll put a clause in the lease so anyone who wants satellite service has to go through you.”

“Cool!”

“Very Cool!”

No, just very illegal.

I live in “X” Apartments. The statement above was in my lease when I renewed. While I mentioned to the rental manager that the clause was illegal (yes, I read my lease) and later dropped off a copy of the FCC’s rules so the management company’s lawyer could review it, I personally didn’t care—the law was on my side. Besides, I installed my DirecTV dish months earlier.

Then I was made to care. My neighbors wanted to know how I got away with my dish. The clause is illegal I said, and gave them a copy of the FCC’s rules on antennas.

Now What?

OK, maybe my neighbors should have read the rules I gave them. Seems a few of them put dishes on outside common area walls, which is illegal. Maintenance took them down. I explained why it was illegal, and then I was told that maintenance was threatening to remove the legal dishes as well.

The “community” of satellite dish owners wanted me to deal with it. Fine.

I had three ways of dealing with this:

One: I could call the FCC (888-CALLFCC) and complain that the landlord is enforcing an invalid restriction. But I’m sure that would take forever.

Two: I could call DISH Network, which I am sure wouldn’t be happy. It might do something about the problem.

Three: I could threaten to take “X” Apartments and “Y” Entertaining to court and have the clause invalidated...and sue for court costs since they knew the clause was illegal since I gave them the FCC rules.

Big surprise...I threatened. I made sure that they knew that as a member of the media that I would contact every local media outlet (and some national outlets as well) and the publicity would not be good for them at all.

The rental manager’s reaction: “Fine, do what you want. I don’t care about the damn dishes.”
We’ve got our dishes. The legal ones stay up. The clause is still in the lease. Management doesn’t like me much. They think I’m just an arrogant Texan. They’re right...at least when it comes to DTV.

But why are we still fighting this battle?

Jonathan Bellows is a contributing editor. He can be reached at: jbellows@uemedia.com.