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“Can I get DirecTV in my apartment?”

This is one of the most common questions I get about satellite TV.

The short answer is: yes. You are legally allowed to install a satellite dish on a rental unit so long as you don’t damage the rental property or violate any local laws while doing so.

Your right to install a satellite dish is specifically protected by FCC order 98-273, which states that “renters will be able … to install Section 207 reception devices wherever they rent space outside of a building, such as balconies, balcony railings, patios, yards, gardens or any other similar areas.”

The long answer is: maybe. If your landlord is difficult, it might not be quite so simple to install a satellite dish on the premises — especially if doing so could cause any structural damage to the property. The landlord’s rights are also protected by the FCC, which specifies that landlords can place restrictions on the installation of satellite dishes or antennas “as long as the restrictions are reasonable.”

Satellite TV providers such as DISH and DirecTV uphold these laws, and will generally only install equipment on balconies, patios, gardens, and anywhere else exclusively accessible by the property renter.

Satellite TV vs Cable TV in Apartments

Image via The Photographer/Wikimedia

For many years, those living in apartments, condominiums, and townhomes had to settle for their cable TV provider — whether it was Comcast, Charter Spectrum, or another cable television company serving their particular area.

Some residents with private decks and balconies have been able to put a satellite dish out there and then hook up DIRECTV service. Recent rulings by the FCC have changed the game in favor of satellite TV companies like DIRECTV and DISH Network.

If you live in an apartment or condo complex, and you just can’t stand the thought of missing out on the NFL Sunday Ticket package this year, the first thing to do is check with your landlord or management company and ask about DIRECTV or DISH, since larger properties have often been pre-wired to share a single dish system. (These situations are usually found in larger, multi-story apartments and condominium complexes.)

In these cases, either one or more DIRECTV satellite dish systems have already been installed on the roof, and then signals are sent to a central location inside the building.

What if my Landlord Doesn’t Offer a Shared TV System?

If your landlord doesn’t have a shared system, you can inquire about their preference of where to mount your DISH or DIRECTV dish. (Usually, you’re looking at a patio, window, or roof.)

…This is where things sometimes get sticky.

Landlords often don’t like seeing a satellite dish stuck to the side of their building. This isn’t entirely unreasonable: the way a building looks can affect its value, and a row of dozens of haphazardly-arranged satellite dishes isn’t exactly scenic. Regardless, if they refuse, you still have one option —mount it on the railing of a south-facing deck or patio.

The consideration here is whether that area is a private deck or balcony. As long as it’s not shared, you can usually do whatever you want with that space. Another easy way to check things out is to simply walk around your apartment or condo complex and look at your neighbor's deck areas. If you see several satellite systems set up, chances are your landlord won’t care if you add your own DISH or DirecTV dish to the mix.

How to Get a Satellite Dish Installation Permission Form?

To avoid delays with getting your system installed, the technician may require you to provide an installation permission form, which basically says your landlord, homeowners association (HOA), or apartment manager is okay with the satellite dish installation.

If you run into a situation where those in charge give you a hard time regarding a DIRECTV or DISH satellite dish installation, you need to decide which is more important: your relationship with the landlord, or your TV service. If the answer is “your TV service,” inform them of the FCC laws regarding satellite dish placement and your intention to file a complaint if they obstruct your legal right to satellite access.

Why Won’t my Landlord Allow Me to Install Satellite TV?

There are three primary reasons a landlord might discourage you from installing DISH or DirecTV in your apartment:

  1. They consider the dish to be unsightly.
  2. They’re concerned that you’ll damage the property while installing the dish.
  3. They have an affiliate agreement with a specific provider (for example, the local cable company might give them a monthly percentage of every resident that subscribes to their service.)

Of these three, the last one is the trickiest to maneuver. While not strictly legal, exclusive service agreements have long been a fixture of the rental market. If your building manager literally gets paid to convince you not to use DirecTV or DISH, chances are they’ll be sour to deal with if you don’t pay into their scheme.

Fighting back against these exclusive agreements can be difficult in practice since the FCC ruling about dish installation allows landlords to refuse “unreasonable” dish installations. This creates a grey area where building managers can easily claim that anything they don’t like is a potential “hazard” of some sort.

The only solution in these cases is to file a formal complaint with the FCC to enforce your legal right to install equipment on your private rental area. Keep in mind that doing so can be damaging to your relationship with your landlord, regardless of who is in the right, since they will be less likely to give you a good personal reference if they feel you are undermining their authority. Step-by-step instructions on how to file a complaint can be found at the FCC’s website.

Most Landlords Will Tolerate a Dish If You Are a Good Tenant

At the end of the day, landlords and building managers value tenants over a small monthly kickback. If you can approach the issue in a friendly manner and prove to the landlord that you’re a dependable tenant worth bending their rules for, you’ll probably be able to install a DISH or DirecTV receiver somewhere on the property.

If not, it may be time to consider different lodgings.