Pursuit of Happiness
The Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2014, is a congressional effort to direct the FCC to extend the “reasonable accommodation” provision for ham radio antennas to include all types of land-use regulation, including deed restrictions and restrictive covenants. I predicted this would die a swift death, and while I still expect it to fail to become law, the “swift” part may not come to pass as the bill continues to gain co-sponsors.
So while that works its way through the political maze in Washington, it has sparked a more interesting debate in the world of amateur radio. Most of us might expect the fraternity to embrace any regulation that benefits us, yet a few cracks of dissension have started to show. Beginning with an appearance on HamRadioNow (#158) by Mike Alexander, N8MSA who cited his libertarian view that the government shouldn’t get involved in private contracts.
While his is far from the prevailing view, I’ve been surprised by the number of hams who have adopted it as their own and are reciting it in online forums, mailing lists, and social media.
Though I have my own reservations about shoving ham radio down the throats of muggles via government legislation, I also find a chuckle or two in the notion that this is a desirable libertarian cause. I mean come on, ham radio inhabits a swath of radio spectrum that can only be used by federally licensed devotees. The entire notion of a select group of citizens being exclusively handed publicly owned radio spectrum is anti-libertarian. For the true zealot, the proper view would be that the airwaves belong to “we the people”, not the federal government, who should auction it off to the highest bidder and get out of the business of regulating it altogether.
You might have a more difficult time finding any supporters for that kind of political correctness among the rank-and-file radio hobbyists.
What this really comes down to is decisions, choices, compromise, and the pursuit of happiness. One fellow’s 70-foot tower and antenna brings him happiness but ruins it for his neighbor. Another fellow wants his kids to go to the best schools, be near the amenities of city life — while abiding in a Norman Rockwell painting neighborhood — but he doesn’t want to agree not to plant an antenna farm in that Nirvana. Or worse, he does agree and signs on the dotted line, but now wants Uncle Sam to bail him out of his poor decision.
I understand the broader issue is much more complicated than that, but it’s tough to get much sympathy from those of us who made the decision to live outside the confines of fancy neighborhoods in favor of owning a home with no land-use restrictions.
But you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. In a vacuum, local governments are as bound to overreach as the feds. Without legal protection, whose to say that some local tin-horn dictator won’t slap antenna restrictions on places that have never before heard of them? I like to think that PRB-1 provides that protection, but who knows?
It all feels a lot less reassuring when you read how an HOA expert interprets these things.
There is nothing complicated about the Parity Act and there is already precedence for outside antennas in CC&R communities. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows for television antennas to placed upon homes even in CC&R communities with some restrictions in height and concerning historical sites. There is no relationship between CC&Rs and government intervention concerning legal contracts, a straw man introduced by those in the HOA manifest. See the website caionline.org and search for H.R. 4969 and you can see where some of this verbiage originates. The lawyer’s comments are reasonable and refreshing. Let’s hope that the amateur radio service be offered some protection concerning antennas by this movement.
The best way to predict this outcome is to follow the money. The broadcast industry bought PRB-1. This time realtors will insure HR 4696 will be a non-starter.
What horse do realtors have in this race? It’s not like they’re going to stop selling houses or sell them for less because of this bill….or that there are even enough radio amateurs per square mile to even move the needle for them and their commissions.
Any discussion that touches on administrative regulations and/or laws will always be subject to the world-views of the participants. Mine are as follows:
1 – CC&Rs are private contracts, subject to pre-commitment review and, while pervasive, are not un-avoidable. I have purchased eight homes, in three US states and one foreign country, and have never had to join a neighborhood association.
2 – HOAs exist primarily for two reasons: help ensure the highest possible property value, and manage common neighborhood property (e.g. road paving and snow plowing). The vast majority of home buyers will, as these are both useful and desirable concepts, quite willingly will make a contractual commitment to obtain these benefits.
With facts as a given, and these are easily verified (except my home ownership) through the most trivial research, below is what I think “falls out”:
You either bought a home as a ham, or became one later, with a legally and ethically-binding contract. You decided, after the fact, that your hobby is more important than your word (as manifest on the contract), and you’re looking for someone to intervene on your behalf, despite of what you agreed to and what your neighbors want.
Yes, I am loathe to “invite the camel to stick it’s nose in the tent”, even though they did it before (on behalf of tens of millions of households and multi-billion dollar industry). But what really makes this difficult to support is the notion that educated adult Americans, given every opportunity to review a contract and given an opportunity make a decision that they didn’t want to give their neighbors a tremendous amount of power over them, decided that they wanted the benefits an HOA and are then for a legal way of “weaseling out” of the contract.
So it’s 25% “libertarianism” and 75% living with the decisions that you made, and not ramming things down your neighbor’s throats. I didn’t do that, and I don’t think anyone else should. You wouldn’t be happy it if your neighbor started scrapping aluminum in their front yard, and if you agreed with neighbors not to put a big aluminum erector set in your yard, you should live by that.
And, quite frankly, if more people resisted HOAs, or (at least tried to) negotiate the terms prior to signing, then perhaps HOAs would be less common and more flexible. That’s the “pursuit” part of the “pursuit of happiness”, as opposed the “just give me what I want” part that I somehow missed in civics class.
Mike Alexander – N8MSA
Mike Alexander makes good and valid points. I would remind all that those contracts’ antenna clauses were swept away by the law and subsequent FCC rule on outside TV antennas and satellite dishes. When there’s enough money (profit) involved, things happen, even at the FCC.
I used to dismiss the HOA issue myself, citing they are private contracts, and I’m not even a Libertarian. Then I was thrust into buying a new home for myself. (Legal separation. Long story. I’ll tell you over a beer sometime.) There are areas here you just can’t get into without going into an HOA. If you don’t mind living in a crap house in the middle of town you don’t have to worry at all about HOAs. I had to research the rules of all the HOAs around here and I had to exclude a lot of house choices. I did end up in an HOA community, one that I think I’ll be OK in.
It’s not as simple as resisting HOAs. I’ve never heard of CC&Rs being negotiated for one home buyer. It’s take it or leave it, buy the house or walk. A lot of HOAs here were established in the 60s and 70s. They’re not going anywhere.