The Dish on Satellite Dishes: Owners Get Poor Reception if They Venture into Common Areas

By Merle Hass, Esq.

As satellite dishes become more popular, more condominium unit owners are installing them on their property.  But some are treading into common areas, and in so doing, they risk a poor reception in Court.

That was the outcome of a case we recently won, and we thought you’d be interested in the circumstances.  In November 2011, we filed suit, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against a unit owner who installed two satellite dishes on the balcony that is attached to his unit. We did not claim that the dishes themselves violated the condominium’s governing documents. Rather, our claim – supported by great pictures provided to us by the management company – was that the dishes were affixed to a common area, in this case the top of the balcony railing and a drain pipe.

As most of you probably know, satellite dishes are allowed by FCC rule, and most condominiums have enacted rules to regulate them.  In fact, the FCC keeps condominium associations on a very tight leash as to these dishes, prohibiting many restrictions. But one rule is inviolable:  A unit owner cannot place a dish in or on a common area. Despite this clear prohibition, it is not uncommon for unit owners to try to do so.

In my case, I think the Court was struck by the defendant’s defiance, coupled with the fact that the matter could easily have been resolved inexpensively had the owner paid attention to our claims.  Instead, he ignored our letters and our complaint, and was unresponsive when we sought a default against him.  In fact, he only responded after we moved for default judgment and requested considerable attorney’s fees.

Dishing out the Right Verdict

Notwithstanding his protests, barely three months after suit was filed, the Court entered the Judgment and Order we drafted, which provided the association the right to remove the dishes if the owner did not do so, and which included attorney’s fees.  The upshot is that the association did remove the dishes.

What can we learn from this experience?  While FCC rules are clear regarding satellite dishes, the issues are often complex, and we expect that more unit owners will try to stretch their perceived legal rights.  At the same time, associations need to do what’s in the best interests of the community and protect themselves as well.  They should formulate regulations for the use of the dishes, and they should consider legal assistance if needed.  As we say, call the right attorney before the wrong thing happens.

At GSL, we are in tune with these kinds of issues and happy to assist you if you have questions or, even worse, unit owners like the one living at our client’s condominium!