Dr. HOA,
I recently had a satellite dish installed at my condominium, and I received a letter from the HOA stating that it was installed illegally and it must be removed.
I thought there were federal laws that protected my rights to install a satellite dish on my property. There are other satellite dishes in the community. Can they single me out?
Also, due to the location of my condominium and the direction my unit faces, the dish company had to install it on my roof, which they are now saying will be expensive to remove. Can the association force me to remove the dish?
—A. McDonald

Hello A. McDonald,
In 1996 Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, which was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, as the Over-the-Air Reception Devices rule.
This rule prohibits restrictions that impair the installation, use or maintenance of antennas and satellite dishes within exclusive-use areas.
Exclusive-use areas, such as patios or decks, are typically common areas that an owner has an easement over granting exclusive use.
The reason you received a violation letter and you are being asked to remove the dish is most likely due to the fact that the roof and exterior structure of your condominium is not an exclusive-use area and you do not have the legal right to install a satellite dish on the association’s common area property.
As a condominium owner, you do not hold fee simple ownership of the building itself. All of the owners within the condominium community have an undivided interest in all common areas and structures. In other words, you have essentially installed a satellite dish on property you do not exclusively own, and the association has the right and obligation to require that you remove it.
The FCC guidelines do not mandate that associations allow owners to install satellite dishes on association common area property.
Condominium owners who would like to install satellite dishes and live in a unit facing the required direction are typically permitted to install a satellite dish so long as they do so in an exclusive-use area, such as a patio or deck, utilize a tripod or other free standing mechanism to hold the dish, and do not penetrate the building.
I always caution owners from assuming that simply because it does not appear the association is enforcing rules against a particular owner that the association is neglecting to uniformly enforce the rules. Unfortunately, enforcing rules sometimes results after fines are levied against an owner before an association takes action.
If necessary, associations have the ability to pursue a court injunction requiring an owner to comply. If disciplinary action is being taken against you, it is safe to assume other noncompliant owners are being pursued, as well.

One of an association’s primary responsibilities is to maintain and preserve common area elements. It would be irresponsible for a board of directors to allow owners to install satellite dishes, antennas, water softeners or anything else that would penetrate the building’s structure.

Associations, and the board of directors, have an obligation to protect the integrity of the common areas on behalf of all owners with a vested interest, even if it means that some owners may be unable to equip their home with the latest and greatest technologies.