Most leases and rental agreements contain a provision that prevents a tenant from making improvements or alterations to a rental unit without getting the written consent of the landlord. If you make an improvement or alteration without consent, it generally becomes the property of the landlord if you leave. This is because anything attached to the rental property is a “fixture,” which cannot be removed. You should think twice before attaching an item that is important to you to the wall or floor, or at least talk to the landlord about it first. You may need to persuade the landlord that you will restore the property to its original condition when you leave, or cover the cost of restoring it. Try to put any agreement that you reach in writing.
If a dispute arises, deciding whether something is a fixture is not always straightforward. A court will consider factors such as whether the object is physically attached to the property, whether you made structural changes that changed the use or appearance of the property, and whether the landlord gave their consent. A court will also take a close look at any agreements or even conversations between the landlord and you to try to understand your intentions.
Cable TV Access
Most rental units already have cable access as a means of attracting tenants, but some do not. If the landlord’s property does not have cable access, they are not required to get access for tenants who want it. A landlord also is not required to give a particular cable company access to the property. However, under the rules of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), landlords are not allowed to enter into exclusive contracts with cable service providers. Any existing exclusive contracts or exclusive clauses in existing contracts will not be enforced.
Satellite Dishes and Antennas
If your landlord does not have cable access, you may want to install a satellite dish. Landlords often do not appreciate the appearance of these dishes on their property, but the FCC prevents them from unreasonably impairing a tenant’s ability to install, maintain, or use an antenna or dish that meets its definition of a covered device. (Essentially, the rule applies to TV antennas, wireless cable antennas, and satellite dishes that are less than one meter in diameter.)
Any antenna or dish that you install must remain entirely within your own rented space. You cannot place a device in a common area or alter exterior walls or windows to accommodate it. On the other hand, the landlord usually cannot restrict your placement of the device within your rented space, and you have a right to place it where it will receive an acceptable quality signal. The landlord does have the right to restrict how you install the device, although they cannot require that their own maintenance staff install it. The installation technique required must not pose an unreasonable cost.
A landlord also has the right to restrict installation techniques based on safety concerns or the historical integrity of the property. The historical integrity exception is relatively narrow and applies only if the property is included in or eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
If you get into a dispute with your landlord about the placement or installation of a device, you can try to resolve the problem through mediation. If this fails, the FCC can provide oral guidance or a written opinion, known as a Declaratory Ruling. (The device usually can remain in place while the FCC’s decision is pending.) Ultimately, you can take the dispute to a trial court and try to get a declaratory judgment in your favor. This can be complicated and costly.
Central Satellite Dishes or Antennas
Sometimes landlords will provide a central satellite dish or antenna for all of the tenants. This allows them to restrict the use of individual antennas if each tenant’s access to programming, signal quality, and cost of using the device will be the same as if they were using an individual antenna. Also, installing a central device cannot unreasonably delay a tenant’s ability to receive programming that they could receive through an individual device. Landlords can require tenants to remove individual dishes or antennas that were previously set up if they install a central antenna that meets these criteria.