How Do You Get a Cell Tower On Your Rooftop?

Posted by Sarah Locker on Jul 1, 2022 10:17:00 AM
Sarah Locker

There are many potential avenues you can take to create new revenue streams from your existing property. One popular method is to lease your rooftop to a telecom company so they can install a cell tower on it.

With more and more people using smartphones every day, telecom companies need to continue to expand their tower coverage. Because a new cell tower requires at least 300 square feet of space, this has become increasingly difficult, especially in dense urban areas. 

Rooftops are perfect for installing small cells, microcells, and other distributed antenna systems that allow providers to quickly expand their cellular coverage without investing much time and money into infrastructure.

Rooftops are free from interference and have no walls or ceilings, so it’s no surprise they could be considered some of the hottest real estate in certain cities. If you’re considering leasing your rooftop space to generate more revenue, here are a few things to consider.

Does Your Rooftop Qualify For A Cell Tower?

In some cases, telecom companies will contact you about leasing your roof before you reach out to them. In this situation, it goes without saying that your roof “qualifies”; now, it’s just a matter of working out the best deal. More on that a bit later in the article.

So what about property owners who are interested in leasing rooftop space but haven’t yet been contacted? In most cases, property owners will work with a team like Converged Services to handle the cell tower leasing process from research to contract execution. However, some property owners like to take on the task themselves. 

While every scenario is different, here are a few things to research before starting the process.

Are There Towers Near Me?

The first thing you do before you begin reaching out to Telecom companies is some comparative analysis. If you can, try and get information on whether or not other building owners in your area have leased their roof space, and if so, for how much.  You should also look to see how close those towers are to your property.

In general, your roof could still be a candidate as long as the closest tower is outside the range below. The general rule of thumb for tower distance is:

  • 3 miles in rural areas
  • 1 mile in suburban areas
  • ½ mile in urban areas

If you find a tower within one of the distances above, it’s not necessarily disqualifying; it’s just less likely your rooftop will be the one they choose to invest in. 

Do Local Zoning Codes Allow For Wireless Infrastructure?

Next, you’ll need to figure out whether your property is zoned for a cellular tower. Just like you wouldn’t be able to build a high-rise building in the middle of a suburban area, you can’t erect a cell tower just anywhere.

In some cases, the local building code will allow for towers to be constructed on any building as long as they’re over a specific height. In other locales, they may only allow this type of construction in one part of the city or even not at all. 

In most cases, there are specific areas where cell phone towers are allowed to be built, known as “zoned commercial or industrial areas.” Sometimes, there may be no zoned commercial or industrial areas near you. In this case, the cell phone company would have to apply for a zoning variance from the local government.

A zoning variance is a permission slip to build a cell phone tower in an area where it’s not typically allowed. This slip contains several conditions that the cell phone company must meet.

Some of these conditions include:

  • The tower must not exceed a certain height.
  • The tower must be placed a certain distance away from the property line.
  • There can only be a certain number of antennae on the tower.
  • The cell phone company must agree to lease the land for a specific amount of time.

If the cell phone company meets all of these conditions, they should be granted a zoning variance and be allowed to build a cell phone tower on your property. Zoning codes vary from state to state, so you must be familiar with the regulations in your area.

You can find out more about the zoning codes in your area by contacting your local planning and zoning department. Once you have a good understanding of the zoning codes, you can proceed to the next step.

Is there a Need for a Cell Tower?

Finally, the most important thing to figure out is whether a cell tower is needed in your area. Telecom companies are only interested in installing new towers when they need to expand coverage within your area. 

One way to better understand the need is to check the individual wireless service providers’ coverage maps by visiting their websites. Coverage maps for the big four wireless carriers are:

These maps display the areas that have good coverage and the areas that need improvement.

The bars with solid colors (encompassing data and voice) indicate that the coverage in that area is good. So if you’re building is in one of these zones, you probably aren’t going to find a provider who wants to lease your property.

On the other hand, if you see areas with stripes (encompassing data only or no signal), this indicates a need for cell towers in those areas. These are the areas you should focus on.

If you live in an area that needs improvement, there’s a good chance that a cell phone company will be interested in leasing your property for a cell tower.

You can also check with the local planning and zoning department to see if there have been any recent applications for cell towers in your area. 

If there have been several applications, then it’s a good sign that there is a need for a cell tower.

High Rise Rooftop

3 Steps to Get a Cell Phone Tower on Your Property

Once you’ve determined whether or not your property is suitable for a cell tower, the next step is getting a lease in place. There are a few different ways you can get the ball rolling.

Advertise Your Property

One way a property owner can let telecom companies know they have a rooftop available for lease is by advertising. One of the fastest ways is to create a website and list all of the pertinent information about your property, such as:

  • The building location
  • The size of the property
  • Area zoning
  • The property’s conditions (e.g., height, setback, etc.)
  • Your contact information

Once you’ve set up your website, you can begin sharing it around the internet. Start by listing your property on cell tower leasing websites and forums. These listings will increase your visibility and generate a larger audience of potential carriers.

You can also usually buy inexpensive advertising space on local news and industry websites that will allow you to place a graphic or banner ad.   

Submit Your Property to Wireless Carriers and Tower Companies

Another way to begin cell tower negotiations with a telecom company is by contacting them directly and submitting your property. You’ll need to compile the following information to submit your property:

  • The location of the property
  • Latitude and longitude coordinates (you can find them easily here:
  • Street address
  • The size of the property;
  • Area zoning;
  • Contact information.

Once you have this information, you can submit your property for consideration. We’ve compiled a list of websites where you can offer your property for consideration.

Wireless Service Providers (WSPs)

  • AT&T
  • T-Mobile
  • US Cellular – mail info to ATTN: Friendlies Administrator/ 5117 W Terrace Drive/ Madison, WI 53718
  • Verizon
  • Sprint

Tower Companies

We’re often asked why most landowners don’t just call potential WSPs directly instead of filling out these forms. The answer is that WSPs have created these forms to avoid filtering through calls and emails from landowners.

Most WSPs and tower companies use these forms to screen potential locations. If your property meets their initial criteria, they will contact you to discuss it further.

It’s also important to note that not every WSP and tower company has a process for landowners to submit their property. In these cases, your best bet is to contact the WSP or tower company directly and inquire about their process.

Work With Converged Services To Lease Your Rooftop

If all of the above sounds like a lot of work, you’re right - it is! It can take a lot of time to do all the groundwork just to determine whether your building is a candidate. It can take months, or even years, to go through the process of reaching out to telecom companies and negotiating rooftop leasing deals

It also takes a considerable amount of expertise to negotiate a telecom agreement. If you’re unfamiliar with the telecom industry or cell tower leasing, you could leave a lot of money on the table. It’s always best to bring in an experienced technology advisor with experience in rooftop leasing when working out a new deal. 

Be Patient

One of the most important things to remember is that patience is key in a cell tower lease negotiation. Because there are so many moving parts involved, the process can take several months or even years in some cases.

Remember, repeatedly submitting your property information to telecom companies will not increase the chances of having a cell phone tower on your property, nor will it make your property more desirable.

The fact is that there are over 144 million private parcels in the US, and only 325,000 cell sites, most of which are collocated on the same property. Only 0.2% of private parcels have a cell site. The odds are slim, but that doesn’t mean yours won’t be one of them.

A WSP Is Interested in Renting My Rooftop - Now What?

So a WSP has expressed interest in renting your rooftop for a cell site; now it’s time to start lease negotiations. The negotiation phase is where things can get tricky, so it’s important to clearly understand the value of what you own and what you’re willing to accept. Remember, in cell tower leasing, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.

At Converged Services, we have nearly three decades of experience as technology advisors. We specialize in negotiating a wide range of bulk telecom agreements, including rooftop lease negotiations, bulk cable TV contract negotiations, bulk Internet negotiations, managed WiFi, and various other multifamily technology solutions. 

We have the experience and expertise to ensure you get the best deal possible. We will work with you to understand your goals and help you get the most value for your property. Contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced team members. cs_brandmark_200px.png


Topics: Cell Tower, Rooftop