Your Federal Right to Install an Outdoor TV Antenna

In the United States, you have a federal right to install an outdoor TV antenna. That's right, it's the law. More Americans are re-discovering the value of broadcast TV programming with the use of a television antenna. What most people don't know is that in 1996, congress directed the FCC to adopt what is referred to as the OTARD Rule - that stands for Over-the-Air Reception Devices - which governs the consumer's right to install an antenna at their place of residence.
In 1996 the OTARD rule had a lot of significance for satellite dish antennas specifically, since direct-to-home satellite television services DirecTV and DISH were becoming very popular. Fast forward to today, nearly 20 years later, and television antenna sales are booming as more people elect to cancel cable or satellite TV services in an effort to save money. Here's the great news: OTARD also applies to broadcast television antennas!

What is OTARD?

In October 1996, the Federal Communications Commission adopted the Over-the-Air Reception Devices (OTARD) rule concerning governmental and nongovernmental restrictions on viewers' ability to receive video programming signals from direct broadcast satellites, broadband transmitters, and television broadcast stations. The rule specifically prohibits restrictions that would impair the installation, maintenance or use of antennas used to receive video programming (with the caveat that dish-style antennas be no larger than one meter in diameter everywhere except Alaska).

In essence, OTARD guarantees your right to install an outdoor TV antenna. It prevents government agencies, home owner associations and/or landlords from restricting your antenna installation and use. You have the right to select over-the-air broadcast signals as your video service of choice, and you cannot be forced to choose a different type of service such as cable or satellite. The rule applies to property that you own or rent, and requires that your installation be in an area in which you have exclusive use or control. This includes single family homes, condominiums, cooperatives, apartments and mobile homes.

Are there restrictions that can be enforced?

Yes. OTARD provides for some specific instances in which restrictions can be enforced. For broadcast television antennas, here are the main guidelines to ensure your legal right:

  • For multiple-dwelling units, a governing body may restrict the installation of a broadcast television antenna if a central television broadcast antenna is already in use at the property and you have access to those video signals.
  • For multiple-dwelling units, a governing body may restrict the installation of a broadcast television antenna if your installation is not within an area that is considered to be your exclusive use, such as indoors, a balcony or patio. For example, installing your antenna on the roof of a leased multiple-dwelling unit, or in an area that is considered to be for common use, such as the side of a laundry room, will likely be restricted.
  • A governing body may restrict the installation of a broadcast television antenna if it is deemed to be a safety concern. However, the burden is on the governing body to prove there is a reasonable safety issue with your installation.
  • In keeping with the safety rule, a governing body may restrict the installation of a broadcast television antenna if the antenna mast extends more than 12 ft. above the roof line.
  • A governing body may restrict the installation of a broadcast television antenna if the antenna mast extends into an area that is not within your exclusive use, such as crossing your property line into your neighbor's exclusive use space.

What's the best way to avoid conflict?

Today's television broadcast signals are digital. While older antennas will still work great with digital signals and will certainly do the job, digital broadcast signals allowed for the design of new, sleeker and smaller broadcast television antennas. If you are purchasing a new broadcast television antenna for outdoor installation, the best guideline is to select the smallest model to fit your needs.
For the vast majority of metro and suburban dwellers in the United States, a small, sleek antenna such as Channel Master's SMARTenna will be the only television antenna you will ever need. These smaller antennas that were specifically designed for the digital age are capable of being installed either indoors or outdoors and will pick up television broadcast signals from up to 50 miles away or even more.
In some cases, due to variables such as a mountain range or treeline, it will be necessary to install a rooftop antenna to get all of the channels available in your area, but try the smaller antenna first because in most cases a 12 ft.-high rooftop antenna will be overkill for your needs.

Where can I find more information or address a conflict with a governing body?

You can visit the FCC's OTARD page for a thorough explanation of the rule, as well as locate instructions and contact information for conflict resolution.


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