If you have ever lived in a neighborhood
with a Nazi-like homeowners association (HOA), then you understand how frustrating it can be when you have to get
permission from "the board" for something as innocuous as planting some bushes in front of your home. Having lived in a few such locations,
I can tell you that not once was I voluntarily provided with a copy of the restrictive covenants even though the sales contract contained a
statement declaring that I had received and read the rules. Real estates agents sometimes seem annoyed when you bother to ask for a copy. If
you agree to abide by the restrictions as part of the sales contract, you are bound to everything in it. I have never entered into a
contract without knowing full-well what I was signing up for.
Those restrictions can work both for and against you. For instance, the last neighborhood in which I lived with an HOA prohibited cars from
being parked on the road (except for a few hours during an event). They also promised to prosecute people who allowed
pets to roam or that had incessantly barking dogs. Disrupting the peace of your neighbors was not tolerated. The HOA document did make accommodations
for requesting permission to erect an external antenna "for broadcast and reception." A copy of that provision is shown below. There were, in
fact, a couple homes in the development that had modest amateur radio antennas.
In 1985, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) petitioned
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to codify law that
would ensure no governmental agency - local, state, or federal - could prohibit reasonable installations of antennas for Ham operations. As
has always been the case (and I do mean "always"), amateur radio operators have volunteered time and equipment
to communities for providing communications services during times of emergencies. It has been the consistence and reliability of such services
that has retained Hams' license to set up and operate over federally regulated airwaves, and the Feds have, to their great credit, assisted
in protecting the domain. To wit in 1985:
Memorandum Opinion and Order in PRB-1 "...
Because amateur station communications are only as effective as the antennas employed, antenna height restrictions directly affect the effectiveness
of amateur communications. Some amateur antenna configurations require more substantial installations than others if they are to provide the
amateur operator with the communications that he/she desires to engage in. For example, an antenna array for international amateur communications
will differ from an antenna used to contact other amateur operators at shorter distances. We will not, however, specify any particular height
limitation below which a local government may not regulate, nor will we suggest the precise language that must be contained in local ordinances,
such as mechanisms for special exceptions, variances, or conditional use permits. Nevertheless, local regulations which involve placement, screening,
or height of antennas based on health, safety, or aesthetic considerations must be crafted to accommodate reasonably amateur communications,
and to represent the minimum practicable regulation to accomplish the local authority’s legitimate purpose."
As so often happens, over time the original intent of the law has been reinterpreted, diminished, or outright dismissed by individual agencies
and governing bodies to the point that once again the ARRL found it necessary to petition the government to clarify and enforce its stance regarding
the rights of Hams to build and operate communications equipment. Its current incarnation is in the form of The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015 - H.R.1301 in the U.S. House of Representatives and
S 1685 in the U.S. Senate . The
primary intent is to prohibit homeowners associations from flat-out denying an amateur radio operator the ability to erect an antenna. Rather,
an opportunity must be provided to request and accommodation for some form of external antenna structure. This does not mean that massive antenna
farms must be permitted, simply that some leeway must be considered.
In order to promote The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015, the American Radio Relay League has produced a short video titled "Clarity
on Parity" (embedded below). As pointed out in the video, Amateur radio does not require an extensive infrastructure
like cell towers, land lines, or satellites. Hams pay for their own equipment to provide emergency services, and it is NOT tax deductible
(although some mileage can be claimed for travel while providing services).
Fortunately, once again the 'powers that be' in the federal government remain convinced based on a century of service provided by volunteer
Ham radio operators that those operations are not just appreciated, but entirely necessary to ensure reliable, effective, and orderly communications
in times of trouble. Per FEMA director Craig Fugate, "...seeing how amateur radio, in a disaster, in a crisis, was often times the one thing
that was still up and running." Further, "Amateur radio is always that last mile... a system that when everything else fails, a Ham transmitting
can mean the difference between life and death."
"Parity on Clarity" seeks to assure HOA groups that The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2015 is not an attempt to usurp control of and
supersede previously agreed upon terms, but to ensure pre-existing law is upheld when decisions regarding antenna installation is being considered.
HOA boards are fond of reminding residents that 'ignorance of the law' is no excuse for not having read the covenants they signed their names
to, so this is fair turn-around for them. It is in fact reasonable. Per the video, the Act will not lead to giant radio towers nor does it take
away jurisdiction or impact HOA agreements that are aligned with all laws. HOAs, not Hams, decide on height and placement of antennas.
"Clarity on Parity" Video Produced by the American Radio Relay League