Got a 500-Square-Foot Patch? Rent It for a Cellular Tower

Got a 500-Square-Foot Patch? Rent It For a Cellular Tower
Got a 500-Square-Foot Patch? Rent It For a Cellular Tower

Do you have enough unused acreage on your homestead to accommodate the equivalent of two side-by-side inflatable castle bounce houses? If so, you have enough space for a monopole cellular antenna tower, and the potential to collect anywhere from $500 to approximately $5,000 per month in rent.

That bonus income could go a long way in easing the financial burdens of these tough times. But your smart business move may generate headaches with the neighbors too: Various activist groups are up in arms over fears that electromagnetic waves emitted from cell phones and cellular towers are a health hazard, not to mention that the towers can be eyesores.

Even if you still want to give it a try, there's no guarantee a carrier will want your particular site. Just like renting out a garage, parking spot or garden plot, a homeowner needs to have the right location to attract to prospective tenants.

"As is the case with all real estate, it's about location, location, location," says David Wendlandt, managing partner with tower operator TowerSource. "Most of the opportunities [to rent space for a cellular tower] are in rural or suburban areas, or areas that are adjoined to a city but is governed by the county. It's often difficult to put a tower in a city because of zoning ordinances."

These monopole towers are increasingly being disguised as pine trees, palm trees, flag poles or even cacti to make them more palatable to neighbors. The structures rise up as high as 199 feet from the ground -- though not a foot more, because monopoles that are 200 feet tall or higher need clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration and Federal Communications Commission, Wendlandt explains.

cellular tower
cellular tower

Tall Pole, Long Commitment

Folks who are considering attempting to lure a carrier to place a monopole on their property should be aware that they're in for a long-term commitment -- very long term. The contracts usually run five years, with an automatic five-year renewal -- for five consecutive times. In other words, be prepared to have the cellular tower as a neighbor for 30 years.

"The real estate that the monopole sits on can be sold to another party, or willed to an heir. It's usually written in the lease [with the wireless carriers] that the land owner can sell the land if they want to," Wendlandt says.

He noted some homeowners may chose to sell the lease to a tower management company like his and receive an upfront, lump sum payment. But naturally, that payment will be less than the land owner would make if they managed the contract themselves.

Also, a wireless carrier will sometimes strike side deals with other companies to put their equipment on its towers, allowing them to piggyback on its infrastructure. Wendlandt advises homeowners to consult with a real estate attorney who specializes in telecom contracts in an effort to ensure that their rights are protected. For example, an attorney may push for a clause that would provide the homeowner with a cut of the earnings from any side deals a carrier arranges to sublease space on its tower.