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Monitoring and the Law

Jorge Rodriguez


How High Can You Go?

The wacky world of scanner antenna regulations


             As every serious listener knows, an outside antenna can dramatically improve your listening post. So one day you finally clear enough time on your calendar to put up an outside monitoring antenna. You’ve convinced your significant other that this is a true necessity to pursue your monitoring. You’ve even prepared yourself for the funny looks from the neighbors when they drive by and see that you’ve seemingly installed what appears to be a television antenna the wrong way – sideways instead of flat and horizontal like it should be.

            The day arrives and you hold in your hands a brand new Grove Scanner Beam Antenna II, like a boy on Christmas day finally holding a coveted Red Ryder BB gun. But wait! Did you consider all the rules that might conspire to pull down that antenna or keep it from going up in the first place?

            There are typically two to three areas, depending on whether you own or rent your home, that you should examine before deciding to install an outside antenna. The first of these is to determine what the local government zoning restrictions are, if any, on outside antennas. Secondly, you need to find out if there are any restrictive covenants or homeowners association restrictions for your property. If you rent your property, you should also check your lease or with your landlord to see if there are any lease restrictions.




            When it comes to antennas, local governments typically zone for such things as antenna height, safety, general appearance, and compatibility with the surrounding land use. If you happen to be a licensed amateur radio operator, here you’ll have the benefit of the still valid Federal Communications Commissions 1985 Memorandum and Order in PRB-1. The Order provides limited federal preemption of amateur antenna restrictions imposed by municipal land use regulations.

            Local zoning authorities must make reasonable accommodations for the amateur communications radio service and their antennas. In restricting amateur communications, they must use the “minimum practicable regulations to accomplish the state and local authority’s legitimate [zoning and land use regulatory] purpose.”

            If you’re not a licensed amateur radio operator (which, by the way, also often provides you with an exemption to certain state laws prohibiting the mobile use and possession of a police scanner outside your home) you may not be familiar with the American Radio Rely League (ARRL), but you’ll still want to take a look at their antenna restrictions web page.

            The ARRL is the national association for amateur radio which provides their members with a rather comprehensive guide to overcoming antenna restrictions on their web site at

            Although written with the licensed amateur radio operator in mind, many of the ideas and rationale for overcoming these restrictions are transferable to the monitor radio listener pursuing an outside antenna building permit. Ambitious antenna installers should also consult Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules which could apply. If relying on Amateur Radio Service rules for your antenna installation, you should bear in mind that the rules require that any antenna structure over 200 feet above the ground (less than 200 feet if near an airport) must be reported to the FAA and registered with the FCC.




            Restrictive covenants are restrictions that go with the deed to a property. Usually the home or lot is also part of a specific development or subdivision and the covenants are initially put in place by the original developer. Basically, these are contracts or agreements between you and the landowner to do and not do certain things with your land. Under property law rules, the agreement is enforceable by your neighbors and stays with the property. This means the original landowner is not the only one who can come back and enforce the agreement, and when you sell your property, the new owners make the same agreement for the benefit of the surrounding properties and neighbors.

            While restrictive covenants can be one of the most challenging areas for encountering obstacles in installing an outside antenna, the FCC’s 1996 Order (FCC 98-273) implementing Section 207 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 may provide some relief. Especially when the scanner antenna you seek to install resembles a sideways television antenna such as the Scanner Beam Antenna II.

            In order to promote consumer choice in television viewing, the revised over-the-air reception devices rule extends a prohibition on restrictions that hamper a consumer’s use of television antennas; small, typically eighteen inch satellite dishes (such as those needed to receive digital satellite signals); and wireless cable antennas (also known as multipoint television distribution systems or microwave "pay TV") antennas. In order to preserve property rights, the rule excludes common areas, such as the roof of an apartment building.


Lease Restrictions


            Last but not least, antenna restrictions in a lease are the most difficult for a scanner enthusiast to overcome. Here, landlords will have almost unlimited authority to control what you do to property that remains theirs and which you are borrowing for the term of the lease. While the FCC’s 98-273 order may provide some relief, especially if you can legitimately show that the antenna will be used for the rule’s intended purpose of over-the-air television reception, landlords will usually have the final say when it comes to what uses and changes you make to their property.

            Still, some landlords have been known to be quite antenna friendly and accommodating when the antenna, even a discone monitoring antenna, is installed just above the roofline and along the rear of the building, out of view and not visible to most tenants and guests. Asking for permission first and exercising discretion in the installation is always advised. Sometimes this may mean a less than optimal installation, but one which still is far superior to using an inside, ground-level antenna.