Han Radio – to HOAs, a Radical Oddity

To whom it may concern,

February 5th 2018

Amateur (ham) radio has been a dream of mine since the 1960s. When I was a young lad of 14 in junior high, I saw and heard the school’s station and I learned about amateur radio. But because of life issues, I did not pursue this avocation until much later in life. For a full explanation of my attempts at amateur radio, please see: esrv.net/k8bsx.htm.

2015 Hamvention – Get General Class License – Illegal to Use At Home

Like the majority of suburbanites, today I find myself living in a house that’s part of a home owners association governed by private land use restrictions subject to the rules specified in the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs). Like the majority of suburbanites, I did not comprehend the full extent[1] of these far reaching regulations of which I signed off on. In reality knowing what I know now, I would not have bought this house. But, it may be too late for me to do anything about it.

I am retired and living on a fixed income. The house is paid for and I owe no one any money. My monthly expenses are low so I and my wife can affordably live here for the foreseeable future. But if I had to move, it would be at great expense as well as a significant effort. I did put a lot in this house to make it comfortable and easy for me to maintain. Also, the added features such as a woodshop I built are not commonly found in most homes. I would have to reconstruct these additions in a new home. Simply put, it would be very difficult for me to relocate.

So if I had to move, where would it be? It would most likely be in a lower income less safe community. I would be leaving a place I find to be placid and innocuous, some place where retirees would find beneficial.

PRB-1 Amateur Radio Parity Act HR 555 and S 1534

As for Amateur Radio Parity, I fear that there is far too much strong opposition to the idea that anyone can do things out of the ordinary in neighborhoods covered by CC&Rs including amateurs. These land use covenants are the last vestiges of protectionism for “polite society[2]” to guard themselves against – well to put it bluntly, weirdness. Because there are only about 3 to 400,000 active HF licensed hams in the US, long antennas definitely fall within the category of radical oddities. I myself am currently among the inactive hams.

As for HR 555 and S 1534 bills, these legislative documents were poorly drafted and would continue to protect the interests of politicians residing in HOAs as well as the rest of polite society. These beneficiaries would include home builders, real estate investors and property managers.

No one seems to be willing to draft a document that would clearly state that covenants cannot restrict amateur radio operations that are allowable within that specified by the regulatory codes of the municipalities in which these private land use communities are located. Meaning, if a municipality regulation states an antenna to be legal and permitted, the antenna is legal in all parts of a city, township or suburb. The only restrictions on antennas and transmissions would be specified in themunicipality’s regulations.

To reiterate, no HOA should have special rights when it comes to restricting any aspect of amateur radio. The amateur radio licensee should have the same rights as does OTA, satellite, cable, internet, mobile phone and radio broadcast media providers.

As for fears associated with radio energy, restrictions on power and spurious harmful radiation are clearly defined and specified in FCC Part 97 rules and regulations. No operator of ham radio equipment can legally emit harmful energy of any kind affecting their neighbors, or their neighbor’s property including television, radio, telephone, internet or computer equipment. All electromagnetic radio transmissions must be done in strict accordance with the license class granted by the FCC to the amateur radio licensee. There are stringent penalties for violating FCC rules governing radio transmissions including equipment confiscation, steep fines, and jail time.

The restrictions on antenna size and placement are clearly specified in the city, township or county’s regulations. No operator of a ham radio station can legally erect an antenna that can be a danger to other structures such as other buildings, utilities, streets, and airports. These are clearly defined in the municipal building codes.

As for radio amateurs themselves: we are owners of these dwellings located in these communities governed by CC&Rs. We do not wish to diminish where we live or the value of the properties we own. So, we wish to – hide our antennas so as to not make them conspicuous. If what we put up detracts from the property’s value, it decreases the value of our homes as well. Simply put, ham operators have the same vested interests as does the non-hams of the neighborhood.

But of course, there are those who will say this will not assure that some obsessed contester won’t put up an unsightly tower with a huge bunch of antennas atop it.

Note about Greater Cincinnati’s prestigious Village of Indian Hill. This wealthy high-end community is covered by strict ordinances as administered by the Indian Hill government. However, Indian Hill has never had restrictions on antennas except for the aesthetics of their placement. There are several noted residents that have antennas one[3] of which literally has an antenna farm in his back yard.

Finally – It has been eight years since I moved in to this house. I did read the HOA regulations at closing but I did not get the impression I could not put up an inconspicuous antenna. The brief regulations given to me at closing describes antenna placement for television reception. But it did not state that only TV antennas were allowed. After I obtained my General Class license in 2015, I was warned not to install an antenna of any sort including a stealth antenna. I then went on line and read the unabridged Beckett Ridge HOA CC&R Documents. To my dismay, I read about the restrictions on all non-OTA broadcast antennas which include ham radio antennas. Note. These regulations also specify the size and placement of OTA/satellite/mobile antennas.

In the 80s, I lived in two designated historic districts in Dayton Ohio and I didn’t encounter any difficulties in getting approval to erecting an antenna. The only restrictions were the visible placement of antennas. I presumed, wrongfully so, that the same was true for the community of Beckett Ridge in West Chester, Ohio in which I now live.

PRB-1 has been in the works since before Y2K. Since then a number of bills have been drafted to enable people living in HOAs to do ham radio. However, this proposal has existed for 18 years and the likelihood of this becoming a reality is – well it most likely won’t.

Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I have to give up on any notion of taking part in amateur (ham) radio at my home QTH[4]. The reason this decision is mine is because I feel it would be a significant hardship both financially as well as physically for me and my wife to move.

Steve K8BSX - February 2018

Note. In the promotion of Amateur Radio, the ham community must make it clear to new hams that they cannot legally setup and operate a station in designated HOA/CC&R deed restricted neighborhoods. They must also inform existing hams who wish to continue in the hobby to not purchase or rent homes in neighborhoods covered by HOA and or CC&R restrictions. To not disclose this is unethical. Sure, a person can possess a license and are free to go off site to do QSOs. But they must be made aware that they cannot legally operate anywhere in these neighborhoods. They also must understand that operating with stealth equipment can result in severe legal consequences. The courts have upheld the rights of HOA managers to levy steep fines, file law suits against homeowners or take people’s homes for violating restrictions. Rarely if ever have neighbors come to the defense of violators. No HOA residents through legal action have been permitted by the courts to legally install antennas or operate to their equipment.

February 2020 Update: I was misinformed by the HOA about the use of ham radio in deed restricted neighborhoods. According to the ARRL, a person can legally operate ham radio equipment anywhere as long as they adhere to FCC Part 97 rules and regulations. The deed restriction documents only disallow the placement of antennas outside the home. This means the ham operator is limited to placing the antenna within the living space and is restricted by FCC Part 97 (harmful radiation) to operating with very low power, about 5 to 10 watts. As every ham operator knows, an antenna is severely constrained in performance inside a structure. According to a number of publications by the ARRL, A properly tuned antenna is placed up high for optimum performance and safety. So, CC&R documents do effectively restrict ham radio operations.

[1] More than 68 million Americans live in community associations, according to the Community Associations Institute, meaning 1 in 5 of us are required to follow the rules and regulations of a condo, cooperative or homeowners association. According to a 2016 CAI survey, 65 percent of residents find living in an association positive, with another 22 percent neutral on the experience. But a 2015 survey by the Coalition for Community Housing Policy in the Public Interest found that 72 percent had been involved in a dispute with their association that was difficult to resolve.

[2] A derogatory term used to describe inflexible uninvolved suburbanites who harbor the illusion of insulating themselves from the harsh realities of life.

[3] Cincinnati Microwave CEO James Jaeger K8RQ was the highest-paid executive in the Tri-State and a member of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans.

[4] The Q code is a standardized collection of three-letter codes all of which start with the letter "Q". It is an operating signal initially developed for commercial radiotelegraph communication and later adopted by other radio services, especially amateur radio. QTH is the Q notation for a geographic location latitude, ... longitude (or according to any other indication).