Adams Stirling PLC


Although the Davis-Stirling Act (Civ. Code § 4725) addresses satellite dishes, it has been preempted almost entirely by the Federal Telecommunications Act. As the California Law Revision Commission Memorandum 2008-43 points out, “Regulations of the Federal Communications Commission long ago superseded all conflicting provisions in the state’s satellite dish and antenna law for common CIDs, found at Section 1376. Despite being preempted in all but possibly one remaining provision of Section 1376, the proposed new Act retains current state law. Much misinformation results from this interplay of federal and state law and should be clarified.”

On Balconies. For condominiums, areas of exclusive use are usually balconies and patios. Owners have a federally protected right to install satellite dishes and antennas within exclusive use areas, but not outside those areas. Condominium associations can reasonably restrict (or in some cases, even prohibit) anything that extends beyond the balcony boundaries, including installations on balcony railings and patio fences. There are several ways to install satellite dishes on balconies without damaging the balcony. Owners should check with their satellite company for recommendations. Associations can hold owners liable for damage, including water leaks that may develop into larger mold or structural problems.

On Roofs. Condominium associations can reasonably restrict, and in appropriate cases even prohibit, owners and tenants from installing dishes on common area roofs. That is not true for single family homes and not necessarily true for townhouses.

Townhouses. If the CC&Rs define townhouse roofs as exclusive use common area, owners and tenants may install satellite dishes on their roofs. (FCC 2003 Ruling.) If an owner needs to install an antenna on a mast that is more than 12 feet taller than the roof of the home, the association may require a permit to ensure safety, but may not prohibit the installation. If the CC&Rs define townhouse roofs as ordinary common area, the association may impose reasonable restrictions on the installation, which include any restrictions necessary for safety and any other reasonable restrictions as defined by law.

Federal Preemption. Parts of Civil Code § 4725 have been preempted by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (47 USC § § 151-615b) and Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule (OTARD rule) (47 CFR § 1.4000), which provides that while owners have a federally protected right install satellite dishes on their separate interest or exclusive use common areas (i.e. balconies, patios), they do not have a federally protected right to install them on common area roofs.

Roof and Common Area Damage. Due to possible damage to roofs, exterior walls and other common area surfaces and potential liability from injuries, many associations do not allow the installation of antennas on common area roofs or exterior surfaces which might allow leaks or even mold to develop. The Civil Code specifically allows associations to require owners to provide for the maintenance and repair of the roof or other common area components, and to indemnify against any loss or damage caused by the installation. Some clients allow installation in designated roof areas that have been prepped for antennas so as to avoid roof damage and limit the impact on appearance. Restrictions on when and how common area installations occur are appropriate and allowed by State law.

On Walls. Residents do not have a federally protected right to attach satellite dishes to exterior common area walls, so the installation can be reasonably restricted by the association. However, if the wall is under the owner's exclusive use and control (such as a patio or balcony wall), then the owner has a right to attach a dish to the wall. In re James Sadler (1998) 13 FCC Rcd 12559; In re Jordan E. Lourie (1998) 13 FCC Rcd 16760. In exclusive use areas or separate interests, the association has limited authority to regulate satellite dishes. However, associations can and should implement rules to require owners to repair (or pay for repairs to) any common area building components damaged by the installation, and to indemnify against any loss or damage that results from the dish. If the dish is negligently attached to the wall, or if leaks develop into mold claims, the owner may be liable for any resulting damage to the wall, the owner's unit, or any other common areas or neighboring units. Members in planned developments who own their homes, may install dishes on their walls and roofs, subject to reasonable architectural guidelines from their association.

Multiple Dishes. Associations cannot restrict multiple dishes if more than one is necessary to receive the desired service. FCC guidelines provide that owners may have more than one dish. However, the extra dishes must provide service to the owner's property only. Owners may not, without the association's permission, place dishes on their property for the benefit of their neighbors. Multiple dishes are still subject to an association's reasonable restrictions on location of dishes, method of installation, safety, camouflaging, etc. Associations can (and should) draft rules regarding installation of satellite dishes, otherwise owners can install them as they please on their property. However, rules may not (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 from satellite dishes up to 1 meter (39.37 inches) in size in areas that residents own or have exclusive use.

Reasonable Restrictions. Associations may adopt clearly-defined, safety restrictions, even if they impair installation, maintenance or use, provided they are necessary to protect public safety and are no more burdensome than necessary to ensure safety.Associations may always adopt and enforce rules to require owners to provide for repair and maintenance of roofs, exterior walls, or similar components due to installing an antenna or dish, and also to require indemnification against any loss or damage arising from the installation. Associations can always require prior notice, but prior approval through the architectural process is only allowed for installations that are not within exclusive use areas, and even then, the process must move quickly to avoid unreasonable delays.

Antennas. With the exception of satellite dishes, associations may restrict other kinds of antennas. The FCC rule (47 CFR 1.4000) that protects digital satellite dish does not protect the following categories of antennas/dishes:

  • Antennas longer than one meter or dishes greater than one meter in diameter;
  • Television antennas (stick style) used to receive a distant signal;
  • AM/FM radio antennas;
  • Amateur ("ham") radio antennas;
  • CB radio antennas;
  • Digital Audio Radio Services (DARS) antennas (Sirius and XM);
  • Relay or transmit-only antennas/dishes.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC