Q: I recently bought a satellite dish so I can watch lots of different TV channels. The instructions say to mount it on a south-facing wall, to establish a line of sight with satellites in the southern hemisphere. I want to put it on an outside wall, but my landlord says no. The salesman said that landlords have to allow these dishes — was I mislead? –Peter T.
A: They’re both right. Under the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 and subsequent FCC interpretations, landlords can’t unreasonably interfere with your ability to install, maintain, or use an antenna or dish that receives programming from direct broadcast satellites, wireless cable providers and television broadcast stations. A lot has been written about that little word, “unreasonably,” but here are the basics.
You can place your satellite only within your exclusive rented space, and you cannot place one on an exterior wall or in common areas, such as hallways. So try mounting the dish on a south-facing interior wall. If the reception is no good, you could also try placing it outside on a mast, or pole, as long as the mast is on your rented space and the device does not extend beyond that space. For example, if you have a balcony, you could place the mast on the deck and orient the dish to the south, but you couldn’t angle the dish over the railing or extend it above your top floor.
Your landlord can require that your installation method be safe and secure, but it’s against the FCC regulations to impose a flat fee or charge you additional rent. Landlords may, however, insist that you paint the equipment a certain color to blend in with the exterior décor, and can require that you use a universal mounting bracket, which will save wear and tear on the building. If you take the dish with you when you move out and you leave a hole where it used to attach, expect to be charged for the repair.
Q: My roommate Dan is moving out, and he’s found a new person, Mike, to take over. Dan wants his portion of the security deposit back, but our lease isn’t over for six months. Mike is willing to put some money in, but he doesn’t want to be responsible for damage that happened before he moved in. How can we handle this fairly? –Hal M.
A: The best way to sort this out is to ask your landlord to come over and perform an inspection, just as she would if you were all moving out. After she has identified damage that she’ll deduct for when the lease is up (like $100 for that red wine stain on the living room rug), you and Dan can decide who’s responsible and who should pay. If Dan will be paying, he’s entitled to $100 less than the share he put in. When Mike moves in, Mike should buy-out Dan to the tune of $100 less than Dan’s original share.
This system depends on your landlord’s cooperation, and you won’t always get it. Landlords don’t like the extra work (why inspect twice?) and are afraid that they won’t be able to assess the condition of the rental when the tenants’ belongings are still there (suppose the couch is covering more stains?). If your landlord won’t help, the next-best thing is to do your own inspection and honestly evaluate the problems. You and Dan know better than anyone where the problems lie — including under that couch.
Q: The front door lock on my duplex is old and funky — even my 10-year-old can’t get past it. The landlord has promised to repair it but hasn’t done so. I’m worried about a home intrusion, as this isn’t the safest neighborhood. What can I do to protect my family? –Fran B.
A: It’s distressing to be dealing with an owner who seems unconcerned about such a potentially serious matter. But aside from that, your landlord is not even thinking like a businessperson as he delays this repair. A new lock — or even a new door — is much less costly than the fall-out from a burglary. If that were to happen, and you could prove that the broken lock made it possible for the criminal to enter, your landlord could end up liable to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. If someone is injured, heaven forbid, the sky’s the limit — American juries have a lot of discretion when it comes to money damages. Now that the landlord is on notice of the problem and aware, as you are, that the neighborhood is iffy, his continued delay risks your safety and his investment.
Though you’ve already discussed this issue, send your landlord a letter describing the problem and the solution you choose (this letter may become “Exhibit A” if you end up in court). Take a look at your state’s landlord-tenant statutes and find out whether sturdy door and window locks, like functioning plumbing, are essential parts of any rental. In states that say they are (such as California and Texas), you may have the option of making the repair yourself and deducting the cost from the next month’s rent, withholding the rent until the landlord takes action, or moving out without future responsibility for rent. But proceed carefully — make very sure that these responses are valid under state law, and follow the procedures precisely, or you could end up losing your tenancy.
If your state does not consider tenant safety as serious as your right to hot water, and your continued written requests for a functioning lock produce no results, consider moving. Will a shoddy lock justify breaking a lease in such a state, making it possible for you to win if you’re sued for the rent for the balance of the lease term? It’s hard to tell, but you could certainly make the case (and might make some new law) that even if your legislature hasn’t added “basic security” to the list of essential items every rental must have, a courageous judge could add that feature herself.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.