Most landlords have at one time been frustrated by a tenant who contacts a satellite television provider to install a satellite dish on the roof of a rental property without first obtaining the landlord’s permission.  In fact this unfortunately happens quite often.

The tenant ignores the lease provision which states that they can make no modifications to the unit, the building or grounds without the landlord’s prior written consent.  The satellite television provider doesn’t bother to notify the landlord to ask if the landlord is OK with them drilling holes into the roof of the rental unit.  If the satellite television provider even bothers to ask the tenant if s/he has obtained permission from their landlord, the tenant responds “yes, of course, go right ahead and install it so I can watch the big game on Sunday.”  The result, the landlord is stuck with an ugly satellite dish on his/her roof that needs to be removed and the strong possibility of future water intrusion problems after the tenant is long gone.

Most landlords have opted to either swallow hard and absorb the cost to remove the dish and/or fix any leak issues or attempt to hold the tenant responsible for the costs.  Even if the landlord succeeds in obtaining a judgment against the tenant – most tenants are not collectible – so it is a Pyrrhic victory.

Well a landlord in a suburb of Los Angeles County decided to pursue a different path.  Christopher Spencer opted to pursue the “deep pockets” — satellite television provider instead.  In what Mark Kellum of the Glendale News Press says is a novel and potentially precedent-setting legal case, Spencer successfully sued the Dish Network for the costs to remove three dishes from his rental property.

Spencer obtained a judgment of $850 to cover the costs to remove three satellite dishes from his apartment building and $110 in court costs.  Spencer filed the small claims lawsuit after the Dish Network refused to reimburse him after months of informal negotiations back and forth.

It would be interesting to see if a court would also order a satellite television provider to reimburse a landlord for any water intrusion damage that was caused by the installation of the satellite dish.

Remember that federal law allows a tenant to install a satellite dish on a rental property but only in an area that is exclusively under the tenant’s control — like a private porch or patio.  A tenant is not allowed to install a satellite dish in or on any common areas or area that is not under the tenant’s exclusive control — such as a roof, side of the building, shared porch etc. — unless the landlord consents.  Here is the FCC’s summary of the rule.

While Spencer’s win does not mean that a Wisconsin court must arrive at the same decision, it does give this landlord food for thought.



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