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by Janet Portman, Inman News

Wasting powerQ: I live in an old apartment complex. I would like to purchase a big new flat-screen TV for my living room, but have encountered a stumbling block.

The landlord has referred me to the DIRECTV agent who services our buildings, but he says he can’t give me high definition until the owners improve the wiring. And when I ask the manager, I get the runaround.

My unit has a large private deck where I could easily mount a satellite dish and run wires directly into my apartment, thus bypassing the present wiring. I heard a year or two back about a law that should apply to a situation like mine — permitting a tenant to independently contract for individual cable or satellite television despite any exclusive arrangements by the apartment ownership. Could you provide me a citation to this statute or ordinance and give any clarification of my options? –Jim A.

A: Your memory has served you well — just about a year ago, the Federal Communications Commission issued a final regulation that forbade owners of multi-unit residential buildings from entering into “exclusive” deals with audio and video providers. The theory behind the rule, which was opposed by apartment industry lobbying groups, was that exclusive arrangements kept healthy competition from flourishing, thereby making it more expensive for tenants to receive their programs. The apartment industry argued to the contrary, claiming that exclusive deals resulted in more competition, for the exclusive deal itself, and that the price savings would be passed on to the tenants. Importantly, the regulation decreed that any existing exclusive arrangements would no longer be enforceable.But here is where your situation and the regulation you remember part ways. Your wish — to receive high-def TV — wouldn’t necessarily be solved by invoking the FCC rule and calling a different cable provider (whom your landlord wouldn’t necessarily have to let into his building — the ban on exclusive contracts didn’t mean that every cable company has the right to enter the building). You’d still face the roadblock of the antique wiring. You have, instead, hit upon a different solution, which is to rely on your right to receive satellite transmissions independent of any wiring in the building or existing cable deals between the owner and a cable company, exclusive or not. Since 1996, the year the Federal Telecommunications Act was passed, landlords cannot unreasonably interfere with tenants’ rights to mount an antenna within their exclusive rented space. You can learn the specifics of this rule by going to the FCC Web site ( and typing “Over-the-Air Reception Devices Rule” in the search box

.Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of “Every Landlord’s Legal Guide” and “Every Tenant’s Legal Guide.” She can be reached at [email protected].

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Copyright 2008 Janet Portman

See Janet Portman’s feature, Sex Offenders Have Legal Rights, Too.

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  • We have not allowed Satellite at our properties because of the poor installation done by satellite installers in the past. This included breaking screens in order to get wires in through the windows, letting wires hang over other tenants’ windows and into the yard (making mowing difficult to impossible), drilling holes into the roof to mount dishes, and then when the tenant moves out and no longer wants satellite, we are stuck with an outdated dish on our roof and can’t remove it without having to patch holes. Our buildings do boast other good other cable options that work just fine and do not damage the building or the looks of the building.

  • The FCC rules regarding tenant rights to have sat. dishes does not mean landlords must allow dishes to be installed. The dish must be allowed to be installed in a space that the tenant specifically has control over in accordance with their contract. In other words, a dish may not be allowed by the landlord in any common area such as a roof, common ground, side of a building etc…

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