Landlords are "delighted" and cable operators "disappointed" over a unanimous vote by the House of Representatives to drop a controversial provision in a bill that would have allowed operators to wire an apartment for cable television without the consent of the landlord.
Landlord and real estate associations launched a vigorous lobbying effort on Capitol Hill to defeat the provision, which sparked a spirited debate between those saying the law would protect tenants' consumer rights and those saying it would violate landlords' personal property rights.
The House recently voted to drop the provision, which was never included in the Senate version of the Telecommunications Act. The bill is designed to clarify the authority of the Federal Communications Commission and state and local governments to regulate the cable television industry.
"We are delighted, highly pleased with the outcome," said Donald R. Slatton, executive vice president of the Apartment and Office Building Association of Washington. "We worked long and hard on this."
But cable spokesman Edward W. Dooley of the National Cable Television Association said cable operators will now lobby at the state level to get the same law passed state by state.
"We are obviously disappointed," said Dooley. "We will go state by state to work for tenant access." Dooley said about a dozen states, most notably New York, already have laws allowing cable operators to provide service to tenants over the objections of landlords, as long as the landlord receives some form of compensation.
The provision "sounded good to them House members at first, but it quickly became apparent that this is a property rights issue," said Slatton. "We don't feel anyone has a right to access to our property.
"Of course we must allow electric, water and sewer," he said, speaking for landlords. "But cable is not imperative to the health and welfare of tenants."
Dooley said Congress found the controversial provision expendable when it came to saving the bill as a whole.
"I believe many thought it was an anchor that could sink the whole piece of legislation," he said. "The overwhelming desire was to see the legislation passed. The provision was seen as something that could go."
Dooley said cable operators were fairly confident that the provision would be passed, until the landlord associations and the National Association of Realtors launched what he called a "spirited campaign" to defeat the measure.
"They were all over the Hill," he said of the opposition lobbyists. "We didn't want to see it happen, but the provision became quite controversial."
The provision would have protected the consumer rights of tenants across the country, said Dooley, who said cable operators often bypass apartment buildings because the landlords want high fees before they will allow access.
He said landlords would have received compensation under the bill for damage from cable installation such as holes in the walls and floors. However, the bill did not state how just compensation would be determined.
"Tenants should have the same access to consumer goods as private homeowners," he said.
"We don't want to keep cable out of our buildings because cable enhances a building," said Slatton. "But if a landlord doesn't want cable and the tenant does, then the tenant can vote with his feet. He can move to a building that does have cable."